Canola agronomy advances bridge rainfall divide

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Photo of Roger Bilney
Kojonup grower Roger Bilney believes the full potential of canola is only now being realised.PHOTO: Evan Collis

Kojonup grower Roger Bilney and his family have been growing canola on their high-rainfall mixed crop and livestock farming property for more than 30 years, but believe it has only been in recent years that the potential of the crop has been fully realised.

Back when they first planted the crop in 1987 it was called rapeseed and it yielded 900 kilograms a hectare in one of the driest years the district had ever seen. These days, the business is achieving yields of about 2.3t/ha on a growing-season rainfall of about 500 millimetres.

“Canola is a very profitable crop in our region if we are able to get the agronomy right for the season,” Roger says.

He says growers in the high-rainfall areas have been capitalising on the extensive R&D programs implemented in the lower-rainfall growing regions with dry-sowing strategies, coupled with a better understanding of fungicide applications.

“It’s only been in recent years that we have started dry-sowing canola, but already we are seeing significant upside to our yields from this approach,” Roger says. “Also, in 2017 we sprayed small areas of the crop for sclerotinia for the first time and the results convinced us of the need to spray the entire crop last year.”

Roger believes a greater emphasis on improving the genetics of the canola plant will further increase yield potential.

“Our high growing-season rainfall means we have tall, robust plants that become a challenge later in the season, not only for spray applications, but also for swathing and harvesting,” he says.

Roger was a panel member at the recent AusCanola 2018 conference in Perth, along with Mullewa grower Tim Critch and York grower Guydon Boyle.

The three growers told the conference that despite the differences in rainfall in their growing regions, early sowing, early germination, and timely herbicide and fungicide applications were critical.

GRDC Western Panel member and AusCanola 2018 grower panel session chair Michael Lamond agrees there is more upside to be gained from the crop, which is still a relative newcomer in the Australian grains industry.

“If we can match better agronomy to specific canola types and varieties, I think we will see significant improvement in yields in coming years,” he says.

GRDC sponsored AusCanola 2018, the 20th Australian Research Assembly on Brassicas in Perth, which attracted researchers from around the world. More details and the proceedings are available online at Australian Oilseeds Federation.