What is the canola yield when a field has zero canola plants per square foot? Zero. What about one plant per square foot? Considerably better than zero, but not ideal. The sweet spot is five to eight plants per square foot.
This is based on hybrid canola studies from Western Canada, which showed that canola crops need a minimum of three to four plants per square foot to maintain yield potential. Canola Council of Canada (CCC) research found that stands of five to six plants per square foot yielded about five bushels per acre more than stands that averaged two to three plants per square foot. Five to eight is a good safe target.
How many fields are hitting that target? The CCC has a new crowd-sourced survey project to answer that question. Through the project, farm families, agronomists and certified crop advisers (CCAs) will count canola plants at the two- to four-leaf stage and enter results into the “Canola Counts Survey” tool at canolacalculator.ca.
“We want to gather data on canola plant populations across the Prairies to compare regions, and track plant establishment improvements over time,” says Autumn Barnes, my colleague at the CCC who got this survey going. “To give a little more incentive, we’ll have draws for prizes. The more fields you enter, the greater your chances of winning.”
How to count plants
The tools are simple – a hoop or a metre stick. A hoop with an inside diameter of 56 cm and circumference of 177 cm covers a quarter of a square metre. Count the number of plants inside the hoop, and multiply by four to get plants per square metre. Divide the plants per square metre by 10 to get plants per square foot.With ametre stick, count the seedlings per metre of row. Take that number and multiply by 100 then divide by the spacing between seed rows (in cm) to get plants per square metre. Divide by 10 to get plants per square foot. For detailed tips, search for “Evaluating the stand” at canolaencyclopedia.ca.
The CCC recommends a target stand of five to eight plants per square foot because plants are often lost between establishment and harvest. Comparing early-season counts to seeding rates will show what percentage of seeds produce living plants. Comparing harvest counts to early-season counts will show what percentage of plants die through the season. The tools at canolacalculator.cacan help.
Plant counts are time well spent. They show how many seeds survived and whether the plant population is enough to meet target yield. Farmers and agronomists can use this knowledge to seek ways to increase seed survival rates, set seeding rates that align with yield goals and to improve the return on investment for seed.
“We hope you also see the value in plant counts, and will help us out by sharing results through the simple Canola Counts tool at canolacalculator.ca," Barnes says. “We need your name for the draw, but individual names and field locations are not shared when we put together the results. This is about the canola community coming together to share results so we can all improve.”
–Shawn Senko is an agronomy specialist and plant establishment lead with the Canola Council of Canada. Email email@example.com.