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Writing the rule book for canola establishment

Callum Wesley is looking forward to a detailed dissection of the factors that can improve establishment for canola in a range of environments across Australia.
Photo: Evan Collis

As he moves towards a more-intensive cropping enterprise, Callum Wesley is on the hunt for a break crop for his low-rainfall environment of Southern Cross, four hours east of Perth. He is fixing his sights on canola.

“Canola is a high-risk crop, but if we can quantify the risk and take an informed approach to aspects of its production in this environment it could be high reward,” Callum says.

“Our average annual rainfall is around 315 millimetres, but rainfall distribution is changing with more summer rain, so we need to look for tools and strategies to capitalise on this summer moisture in our cropping programs.”

Having pursued long-coleoptile wheat development for early sowing in these situations, Callum has a track record of taking a rigorous approach to seeking out tools for growers to successfully crop in this environment.

He is a staunch supporter of grains research and, as chair of the Far Eastern Agricultural Research (FEAR) Group, he walks the talk.

“FEAR has been running demonstration and extension trials exploring canola establishment, managed by Living Farm through the GRDC’s National Grower Network. It is the first time we have had canola trials in this region,” he says.

Establishment is key for canola; it is a small, oil-dominated grain, with a different type of germination than wheat, as it pushes its seed above ground. This means that it takes more energy. If this stage of crop production is not optimised it will result in poor establishment, which then flows on to lower yields.

“Seed size of canola may be a factor, and hybrid canola has an advantage here but is expensive so we need to look carefully at the economics, including optimum seeding rates.”

The trials have been investigating sowing early in April and a variety of seeding rates for hybrid canola to establish three different plant densities – 10, 20 and 30 plants per square metre and different row spacings at 250mm and 760mm.

“When sowing early, although we may be able to sow into more soil moisture from summer rain, this practice has additional issues as the soil may be warmer, which may impede germination of canola,” Callum says.

“Given the preliminary yield results from the local canola trial this year, we have found that some growers may be overcompensating their seeding rates by 75 per cent for hybrid seed. The methods of consistently achieving good canola establishment need to be researched so we can establish hybrid canola successfully at low seeding rates.

“Canola varieties with longer hypocotyls may provide similar benefits to long-coleoptile wheats and the development of these types are being watched with interest.

“The opportunity to take a deep dive into the complexities of this issue has commenced with the four-year, GRDC-invested national canola establishment research project being led by Dr Andrew Fletcher. This project may help write the rule book for canola establishment for growers going forward.”

Also read: Understanding canola establishment to optimise yields.

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