Crop variety is and will probably remain the single most important factor for crop production. Each variety carries the genetic yield potential, which the Agronomists and farmers try to attain through optimum management under particular agro ecosystems. When a variety out yields other varieties under the same agro climate and input management systems, a high yielding variety gives higher returns per unit time, area and dollars invested in crop production. Yield differences in temperate grain/seed crops’ varieties can often equal or even exceed 1 MT/ha under the same input management system. Some examples from research at TBARS in 2016/and earlier years are:
- In spring wheat, AAC Penhold and Megantic produced 1.54 MT/ha and 1.32 MT/ha higher grain yield than Sable, respectively. In earlier years (2013-‘15), Minnedosa gave ~1 MT/ha extra grain yield than Sable.
- Boroe barley gave 0.77 MT/ha higher grain yield than Synasolis and ~3 MT/ha higher grain yield that CDC Coalition. Grain yield index of Boroe in OCCC trials was 105 in 2015 and 108 in 2016. It was the highest yielding variety at EARS too! Grain yield of CDC Celebration in 2012-’14 was only 4.5 MT/ha as against 6.6 MT/ha from Boroe in 2016.
- Roskens oats recorded ~2 MT/ha higher grain yield than AC Rigodon.
- In canola, L252 produced 1.23 MT/ha higher seed yield than L140P and 0.80 MT/ha more seed yield than L5440. For more information, refer to TBARS Annual Reports for the past few years.
As for as possible, choose varieties that have moderate to strong disease resistance. Grow more than one variety of a single crop to increase vertical and horizontal resistance to plant diseases; to create an obstacle against spread of plant diseases in an epidemic form! Growing more than one variety may also help in spreading harvest/combining operations if the maturity days of the varieties chosen differ even by 1-2 days.
A blend of Nitrogen (N) fertilizers works better than a single N fertilizer such as urea!
- In spring wheat in 2016, N application @ 60 kg/ha from urea and 20 kg/ha from ESN produced 1.24 MT/ha higher grain yield than equal rate of N application from urea alone.
- In canola, N application @ 180 kg N/ha from urea + ESN (120 kg N/ha from urea and 60 kg N/ha from ESN) recorded 0.88 MT/ha higher seed yield than N application from urea @ 180 kg/ha. Sulphur was applied uniformly to wheat and canola in all treatments.
- In forage grasses, averaged over three harvest years, application of N @ 140 kg/ha from three sources (84.5 kg/ha from urea, 35 kg/ha from ESN and 20.5 kg/ha from ammonium sulphate) gave 0.86 MT/ha/year higher dry matter yield than application of 140 kg N/ha from urea alone. Residual effect (better protein content with the blend of three sources of N) as compared to N from urea alone was recorded even in the 4th year when no fertilizers were applied.
Remember urea alone can’t sustain N supply to crops throughout the crop season, especially during the grain/seed development stages! Make it a rule to apply part of the N from ammonium sulphate (to meet sulphur requirements of crops), 1/3rd N from ESN and the rest of N as urea.
Other nutrients: Apply other nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, zinc, manganese and boron as per soil tests and crop requirements from readily available sources at optimum rates, times and with the right methods of application. Drilling/or side banding nutrients in permissible limits at seeding helps crops to take an early start and ensures good seedling vigour. For details, refer to Soil Fertility Guide (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/pub611/p611order.htm).
Gone are the days when one could get high yields with application of NPK only!
Try mixed/intercropping cereals and legumes for forage/or grain production. Research at TBARS has established that:
- Growing berseem clover (at full seed rate) with spring barley or oats at 70 % of seed rate for a pure crop adds 1-3 MT/ha to the forage dry matter yield and raises the produce protein content by 4-5 % points. Likewise, spring cereals could be grown mixed with peas for forage production. Seeding berseem clover alone or in mixture with spring cereals could be a good strategy to recover forage yield loss due to winter kill of perennial forages.
- Intercropping barley and peas for grain production at TBARS resulted in a land equivalent ratio of 1.3. Which means that the grain production one will get from 130 acres from a pure crop of barley, could be obtained from 100 acres with intercropping of barley with peas. Thirty acres thus saved could be put under cash crop (such as canola) production. MCPA could be used for weed control in barley + peas inter/or mixed cropping systems. This grain mixture would make a better feed for dairy cows than barley alone.
Cereal legume mixtures will also be good for soil fertility, because cereals are exhaustive crops, whereas legumes are restorative crops, especially with respect to N. Narrow C:N ratio in legume crops’ residues should be good for the soil microorganisms as also the soil health.
Rotate! Rotate! Rotate! Rotating crops is a must for improving crop yields over time in a sustained manner. The challenges we would face without adequate crop rotations are: increased insects-pests and diseases, resistance to pesticides, resistant weeds, poor soil health and declining crop yields or even crop failures/and inability to continue growing another wise good crop. For example, in areas east to us in northern Ontario, farmers are reluctant to grow canola because of severe/or uncontrollable swede midge infestations in it.
Protect your crops from weeds, insect-pests and diseases! Use preventive and mechanical measures, and recommended herbicides at the right rate and time and in an appropriate manner to control weeds that could not only lower yields and produce quality, but could also be nuisance in future crops; especially weeds such as wild oats. Spray fungicides; Stratego at tillering and Proline at anthesis/20 % flowering in spring cereals for control of leaf diseases and FHB, respectively and Proline spray in canola at 25 % flowering to control Sclerotinia stem rot. Apart from grain/seed yield gain, fungicide sprays will ensure clean and strong stem/straw preventing crop lodging.
New Ideas/Crops: Keep the thought process alive, keep trying new ideas/and crops. One potentially good crop that I would recommend you to try is Galega, a perennial forage legume from the Scandinavian countries. It outperformed alfalfa in forage dry matter yield, feed quality, dandelion suppression, winter hardiness and persistence in a decade long research at TBARS Thunder Bay (www.tbars.net). Unlike alfalfa, animals fed on Galega are unlikely to have bloat problem. Contact Thunder Bay Feeds (807-935-2921) for Galega seed.