C&M Seeds’ winter canola – high risk, high reward

·5 min read

C&M Seeds is no stranger to being a leader in their industry. They’re “committed to advancing the future of agriculture” and “doing everything they can” to aid in making crop production a profitable venture.

The predominant wheat selling company also dabbles in selling the genetic variations of other seeds. And winter canola is no exception, as they are the only supplier of winter canola in Canada.

In recent years, winter canola seed varieties have advanced. Now they offer a better winter survival rate as well as higher yield potential. This is causing a renewed interest in the niche crop.

“The winter canola history is a little bit unique. We have played with genetics out of mainly Europe for quite a long time. Probably 25 years now. Winter canola has had its ups and downs,” said Rob McLaughlin, sales and marketing manager for C&M Seeds.

McLaughlin says there are many benefits of winter canola. It can help spread workload for both seeding and harvest, as well as provide a living ground cover during the winter months. Further, it allows for timely planting of winter wheat, makes land available during summer for manure spreads. Lastly, there is a benefit in the marketing of the crop, as it targets old crop prices for canola because of its early harvest date.

What makes winter canola such a risky crop however, is the fact that it must survive the winter.

The crop is planted in the fall, and then in the spring it is reassessed to see if it has potential to produce a crop that year.

“If 30 per cent of the plants survive the winter and are evenly spaced throughout the field, the stand has the potential to produce an economical crop. The remaining plants will branch profusely and fill in the spaces,” explains C&M’s guide to winter canola.

What is key for this plant is a strong root system. It relies on it to initiate and sustain growth during the spring months after a harsh winter. Winter canola, although slightly less hardy than winter wheat, can withstand the freezing temperatures seen in the province.

“Spring canola can be grown from our region in Palmerston up to northern Ontario and western Canada. Winter canola has much smaller areas, as it wouldn’t survive in northern Ontario because of the temperature. We live in a sweet zone, where we can grow both here,” explains McLaughlin.

The ideal time to plant this depends on the location in Ontario, but starts as early as Aug. 20 and can last till the middle of September. This specific timing in planting is due to the fact that a large healthy plant is preferable heading into winter. The plants will overwinter as rosettes and then in the early spring bolt.

“Winter canola has a taproot much like alfalfa. The plant has to grow, photosynthesize and accumulate enough sugar reserves in the root to allow it overwinter,” explains the guide. If it is planted too early, it can cause stem elongation before winter, which then decreases the chances of winter survival.

“Ideally, plants will have six to eight leaves and a taproot the size of a pencil before a killing frost occurs,” explains the guide.

Added McLaughlin, “When we started growing (winter canola) 20 years ago, it was having a hard time surviving our harsh winters here in Canada. And it still does. We lost hope in winter canola as a crop, until this newest line was developed called Mercedes.

“It really has changed the outlook on winter canola.”

It’s a newly registered winter canola hybrid that is available in the Ontario seed market. This new hybrid joined the winter canola scene around six years ago. When compared to older winter canola genetic varieties, Mercedes’ early fall vigour in tandem with its winter hardiness make it great for the region’s canola producers looking for a high yielding winter canola.

“Up until this point we had varieties that were making it through the winter and some that were not,” explains McLaughlin. “Mercedes has been a great change from that perspective as it makes it through the winter.”

Further, it has a lower seed price compared to spring canola, making it a viable option for fall cover. As well, Mercedes’ early maturity allows an opportunity for double cropping or an earlier wheat plan.

Some key agronomic facts of the Mercedes winter canola are that it has good back leg resistance and high germination and purity. The typical height is between 50 to 60 inches and they have a high oil content. They have a very high yield potential as well as excellent winter hardiness. It is adaptable to various row widths and is a large canopy hybrid. They have early maturity and good standability, and are responsive to high management systems.

With the Mercedes hybrid, the C&M Seeds team have been working with it for six years, and in that time have seen slow growth in its popularity.

“Winter canola is always going to be a niche market place, it will never be as big as spring canola, we understand that,” said McLaughlin.

C&M imports the seeds from overseas due to the fact that it’s such a small marketplace.

“We now source the winter canola seed exclusively out of Europe. We actually used to do our seed production here, but with the winter canola marketplace not being very large and winter survival being an issue, we decided that the risks were too high, we had had too many crop failures doing seed production,” said McLaughlin.

“It’s a crop that requires focus and dedication and close attention, but it can be quite prosperous.”

Every year they are seeing growth in the acreage of this winter canola seed sold.

“This particular one with the Mercedes genetics, started at 2,000 acres, now we’re up to between 12,000 to 15,000 acres in the province,” said McLaughlin.

So, what’s the future look like for winter canola?

“We hope that it continues to grow. We have certainly grown more comfortable with the most recent genetics that have come forward. It’s a nice advancement for the crop,” said McLaughlin.

For more information on C&M Seeds, visit their website at redwheat.com.

Melissa Dunphy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner