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Residue management is the key to success with no-till canola

By Doug Rich

Planting no-till canola into wheat stubble is being done successfully in the Southern Plains, but it does require attention to detail. First-time canola growers will need to make some adjustments to their production methods to plant no-till canola.

BURNING RESIDUE—Jeff Scott, a canola grower from Pond Creek, Okla., burns wheat stubble prior to planting winter canola. Scott, who has been a no-tiller for 13 years, said removing crop residue this way has nearly eliminated winterkill in his canola crop.

Tom Peeper, Ph.D., weed scientist emeritus at Oklahoma State University; Mark Boyles, OSU Department of Plant and Soil Science; and Jeff Scott, a canola producer from Pond Creek, Okla., gave some options for planting no-till canola into wheat stubble at Canola U on May 3 in Oklahoma City, Okla. Canola U is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DeKalb.

"The key is residue management in no-till canola," said Boyles. "Canola does not like residue."

The problem with no-till canola into wheat stubble has been winterkill. Boyles said research shows that stand establishment is not the problem. The rate of emergence has been very similar for no-till and traditional seeding. Drought is almost never the cause for winterkill.

Boyles said winter survival with no-till canola into wheat stubble is affected by seed placement and residue thickness; crown height of canola plants going into winter dormancy; soil temperatures in the fall; and soil bulk density. Winter survival will decrease 10 to 20 percent in no-till fields where the stubble is not removed or burned.

A common problem for no-till canola into heavy stubble is high leg or stem extension through the residue that leaves a vulnerable space between the crown and the soil.

Generally, whatever a producer can use to plant wheat he can use to plant canola, Peeper said. Air drills are easy to set up and can handle planting rates as low as 5 pounds per acre. Box drills will work for canola but may need a slow-down kit for consistent seed placement. Even old double-row drills have been successfully used to plant canola. A row crop planter can be used if it has a good residue manager that can clear a 6- to 8-inch path for planting. The John Deere 1870 ConservaPak, an air hoe drill, is a popular new planter for many canola growers in the Southern Plains. On this planter the openers are designed to allow independent down force for uniform depth control across the frame.

"If you are going to buy a new piece of no-till seeding equipment, make them demonstrate it on your farm," Peeper said. "Most no-till seeders were designed for the Corn Belt where they do not want any residue disturbance, but down here we want maximum disturbance. We need brown soil surrounding the seed to survive the winter."

Scott, who has been a no-tiller for 13 years, said when he first started planted no-till canola into stubble following a 40- to 60-bushel wheat crop, it did not work too well. High leg, getting the crown too high above the ground, was a problem at first.

Scott was putting on 80 to 100 pounds of anhydrous 8 to 10 inches deep with a Blue Jet brand no-till applicator. Then he would go over the field with a 16-bar harrow to break up the residue and scatter it around. This was done in August prior to planting. Scott said this helped but he still had some stand loss.

"My ground prep now is a match," Scott said.

Scott burns off the wheat stubble late in the season and immediately applies the anhydrous, then goes over the field with the harrow to smooth the dirt. The harrow gives him half an inch of tillage across the surface of the field.

"We try to stack these operations together as quickly as we can," Scott said. "Within 48 hours of lighting that match I have the field seeded."

The wheat stubble is out there all summer and Scott sprays to control weeds. In late September he burns the stubble, puts on anhydrous, harrows, and seeds. Two to three weeks later the field is fully shaded again.

"Some no-till purists may think this is wrong, but it works for me," Scott said. "I am keeping all that root residue underground to hold the soil together, and I am not seeing any erosion problem."

Boyles' tips for no-till winter canola include paying special attention to seeding depth, distributing residue evenly across the field, planting a variety with excellent winter hardiness, increasing seeding rate by 15 to 20 percent, removing as much residue as possible from the seed row, checking seeding rate and seed depth often, and avoiding seed into young no-till fields.

There are many options for no-till planting canola into wheat stubble. Finding a way to manage the crop residue that fits your operation is the key to success.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at richhpj@aol.com.

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