Seeding in late spring is fraught with variables beyond producers’ control, but there are some things they can do to hedge their bets, says a provincial crop specialist.
Most come down to plant and variety selection, and canola in particular features some strong options, said Harry Brook.
“There are varieties out there that do fairly well — not compared to standard hybrid canola like Roundup Ready or Liberty Link or the Clearfield canolas — but they will produce decently because they’re still doing some breeding work on them.”
In some ways, late-season seeding is a return to a common practice in farming’s past. Prior to the era of selective herbicides, seeding was often delayed as producers took weed control steps beforehand. From those days we know which crops thrive better when planted late. Barley, for example, can be sown later than wheat or oats and still mature before the first fall frost.
So the first step is to take a look at which crops are most likely to thrive despite being planted later in the season.
“Your options are going to be short-season crops: barley, perhaps some of the early varieties of oats, and canola,” said Brook.
Alberta Agriculture recommends seeding barley no later than June 1 in the Peace River area, June 10 in central Alberta and June 20 in the south, although yield and quality will likely be reduced upon maturation.
If seeding cannot take place until June, Brook recommends looking into Polish canola.
“Thirty years ago a lot of people planted Polish canola. In those areas where we had short growing seasons everybody grew Polish because you still got canola but it was a lot shorter season and it matured quickly. There were some benefits even with disease.”
Polish canola differs from today’s commonly used Argentine varieties in that they are not true hybrids, said Brook.
“Today’s Argentine varieties take a line of male sterile and female sterile and mix it together so that they can only breed together — that provides the hybrid seed but it doesn’t breed true. If you kept that seed after harvest you would get some of both parents as well as the progeny and that’s why hybrid seed has to be bought every year.
“Synthetic Polish varieties are developed using two or three parental lines grown together. Seed from this is a mixture of the parental lines plus their hybrids.”
Today’s Polish canola tends to produce more than its predecessors, said Brook. And although it’s not as productive as Argentine canola, it can compensate somewhat for a shorter growing season.
“Like anything else, the longer the maturity the greater the yields, so with Polish being a short-season crop you tend to sacrifice yield with it. The advantage though is it can mature quickly if you are tight for time.”
The shortest-season Argentine varieties of canola are also suitable for later planting and early harvesting, said Brook. The key is beating the first killing frost, which is almost impossible to predict.
“Even if you’re planting an Argentine variety and trying to get the shortest season possible, the real kicker becomes, when is the first killing frost coming this fall? Nobody knows.
“On our website we have the Alberta Climate Information Service where you can actually get frost probability for 370 sites in the province. You can use the tool to figure out the probabilities of getting the crop to harvest. Nobody can predict the weather, but we’re really good at looking behind us.”
The Current and Historical Alberta Weather Station Data Viewer can be found at www.agriculture.alberta.ca (search for ‘weather data viewer’).
Pulses such as peas and lentils are also short-season crops worth considering for late seeding. Trade with India, the biggest buyer of Canadian pulses, was recently disrupted over India’s insistence pulses be fumigated with methyl bromide prior to leaving their countries of origin. Canada’s long-standing exemption to this requirement was extended to June 30. Whether the issue will hurt marketing efforts this fall isn’t known, but Brook points out that Canada has science on its side.
“It doesn’t make sense (to fumigate) because the insects they’re looking at are not in our crops,” he said.