Keys to successfully growing and marketing spring canola in northern Michigan

With the introduction of spring canola hybrids, some northern Michigan growers are taking a new look at growing canola. Here are some keys to making it a successful venture.

After a couple of years of growing the newly introduced spring hybrid canola, northern Michigan growers are beginning to discover how to grow the crop profitably while lowering risks. Keys to success include planting date, weed control, fertility, marketing, planting/harvest equipment, soil preparation, and crop rotations.

These are the most critical keys to success of spring canola. (For my area in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula, that means mid-April to May 1.) Soil temperatures should be approaching 50 degrees F within a few days of planting for a successful establishment. Spring canola is a cool-season crop requiring adequate moisture and cool temperatures for growth. In this area, significant yield reductions have been experienced when planting dates have been delayed to May 15. Yield reductions have been the result of poorer establishment, increased weed pressure and delayed harvest resulting in increased opportunity for shatter of the seed heads. Having the proper planting and harvesting equipment is critical for growers to be able to plant and harvest this crop in a timely matter. It is recommended that growers take a look at weather data from their closest weather stations to determine proper timing for planting in their area.
Good weed control is also necessary for a good spring canola stand. Sod fields or fields with significant weed pressure should have weeds controlled in the fall prior to canola planting. The good news is that we now have more choices in post emergence weed control in canola. Both Round-Up Ready and Clearfield (Beyond) varieties are now available for growers. Always be prepared to make these post-emergence applications, but in some years crop densities have been sufficient enough to allow some producers to avoid this spray.
Fertilizing spring canola for the production capability for your area is critical. Canola is a nitrogen-using crop and growers are applying 2.3 lbs of nitrogen (N) per bushel of production expected. A portion of the N applied is generally ammonium sulfate, as canola needs a 5:1, nitrogen to sulfur ratio. As with any crop, a soil test to determine pH, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil is important to plan for these nutrients.
Soil preparation should be sufficient to achieve good seed to soil contact. Seed beds should be firm to insure consistent planting depths of .25 to .5 inches. Crop rotations should avoid proceeding or following canola with crops such as soybeans and potatoes that may harbor white mold and other diseases. Certain rotations such as wheat following canola have shown significant benefit from adding canola to the rotation. Research out of Oklahoma showed a 7 bu/acre increase in wheat following canola.
Finally, growers should only begin to plant spring canola if they have a marketing plan in place. To date growers in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula have all marketed their canola through ADM in Windsor, Ontario. Part of a growers marketing plan will be to ensure trucking to a crushing plant and the associated cost. Canola growers in my area continue to look for opportunities to begin crushing canola locally as well. This, in turn, will also provide a supply of locally produced canola meal to our area dairy producers. Following these keys to success with help Michigan spring canola growers have a successful and profitable experience with canola.