Curtis Rempel’s full report from IRC 2019 in Berlin

Curtis Rempel, Canola Council vice president, provides the following full report from the International Rapeseed Congress in Berlin this past summer. A shorter version was included in this Canola Digest article.

The majority of speakers at IRC 2019 opened their keynote addresses or technical papers with the message that oilseed rape planting and yields are declining in EU. (A general observation is that planted areas have declined by 25% in EU over the past 5 years.) The reasons cited for this are the ban on neonicotinoid insecticides, specifically seed treatment use, and the very recent ban in Austria (impending ban in other countries) on fall applied nitrogen (N) fertilizer due to high levels of nitrates in ground water. The learning for our value chain is that we need to continue advocating for neonicotinoids based upon the economic advantages and non-target safety when used in responsible IPM programs. As producers and industry we need to implement vegetative buffer zones or filter strips around sensitive areas (i.e. wetlands) and minimize soil disturbance prior to planting within 2 – 3 m of wetlands and sensitive habitat.

Nitrogen stewardship is also critical and without well developed Best Management Practices (BMP) based on 4R principles, nitrogen use could also be restricted in Canada or export of seed produced using N fertilizer could be restricted.

Several speakers highlighted the importance for canola / oilseed rape in crop rotations as canola has a deep root which can break up sub-soil hard pan layers allowing for better water penetration, sequesters significant amounts of atmospheric carbon, promotes soil microbes which are beneficial for cereals and potatoes, suppresses diseases of potato, provides humus through roots and contributes significantly to soil organic matter due to straw production.

The key message for growers and commercial agronomists is that canola in rotation is very important as canola is much more than the ‘profit margin’ crop in rotation – it helps reduce disease and manage nutrients for other crops grown on the farm.

In order to stop decline in planted acres due to restriction on fertilizer and crop protection products, emphasis is required for breeding & agronomy for biological-based innovation. The CCC will continue to advocate for this on behalf of the canola value chain in Canada.

Canola Breeding

Many presentations focused on canola improvement using genomic tools and “new breeding technologies” (CRISPR-Cas9, TALON, RNA interference). The learning is that public / private partnerships for gene structure / function discovery exist for canola and that significant advances in disease resistance, environmental stress tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, oil and protein content and quality exist but insect resistance proves to be a significant challenge. These significant investments of public and private investment likely will not be realized, with significant loss of productivity and nutritional benefit and increased environmental perturbation if these technologies are prevented from being commercialized and adopted.

Agronomic Challenges (Pests, Diseases, Fertility)

Manipulating crop inputs to manage the trajectory of biomass production, flowering and seed production, while controlling pests, to achieve yield, oil and protein targets, requires and industry Genotype x Environment x Management approach. This is particularly needed with changing climate. An example of this would be fertilizing for realistic yield targets and delaying nitrogen application in lower rainfall (Brown) soil zones.
Flea beetles, pollen beetles, seed pod weevil, and stem weevil will cause the termination of canola cultivation in some ‘hotspot’ areas of EU as there are no control products available. Some of these pests are not yet established in Canada but due to changing climate (specifically milder winters which enable overwintering) there is now a real chance that they could be imported into Canada and become established as significant canola pests. Agronomists will need to be trained in identification and surveillance methods to ensure that these pests are ‘caught’ before widespread establishment has occurred. Containment strategies will need to be discussed with federal, provincial and municipal regulators, agronomists and growers.

Increased application frequency of pyrethroid insecticides due to neonic ban in EU has led to increased resistance of insect pests to these chemicals and potentially more harm to beneficial insects due to widespread foliar application.

Whole field real-time insect detection systems are being developed and these should be tested under field conditions in western Canada. There potential for prediction and threshold assessment are likely key to stewarding insecticides and increasing profitability in the future.

Verticillium stripe disease (Verticillium longisporum) may not be present in China, according to Chinese researchers (This is in disagreement with literature). The disease has the potential to be seed transmitted and therefore canola seed exported to China may again be singled out as a threat to oilseed rape production in China.


N2O emissions from fertilizer can be a dominant portion of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions but are difficult to measure and their relation to N input varies substantially between sites and years. Therefore estimates based on emissions factors (EF) are still the standard for GHG accounting schemes. Knowledge about the effect of agronomic measures on GHG balance are still scarce, especially for spring canola. In Germany and other EU countries, joint research projects have been conducted to quantify N2O emissions in winter oilseed rape. In general, measured emissions are lower than the estimated EF. This is likely even more pronounced in spring canola.

The maximum of GHG balance is frequently tied to the economic optimum rate of N whereas specific GHG emission is a continuously decreasing function of N input and therefore a problematic indicator. Options to reduce fertilizer input without sacrificing yield are being investigated using tractor, drone and satellite based spectral reflection measures. Due to water and growing season limitations, western Canada will require different algorithms than EU. While some industry partners recognize this, there is still need for unified research to ensure algorithms and measurements accurately account for N2O emissions. CCC needs to monitor this and ensure industries and professional agronomists are aware sensor technologies which are optimized for canola production decision making across the prairie landscape and guide farmers in establishing climate adaptive farming systems.

In 2016 and 2017, the CCC conducted Ultimate Canola Challenge field scale, farmer run, on farm research trials focused on yield impacts of increasing Nitrogen fertilizer rate by 25% of normal rate used by farmers in the area. In the majority of cases, increasing N by 25% significantly improved canola yield and profitability. This is in contrast to oilseed rape production in EU where drastic reduction in N fertilizer may be required and legislated. The CCC needs to ensure that we have the environmental and economic data to support increased N fertilizer use for increased yield, C sequestration and quality of canola produced in western Canada.

Nitrogen fertilizer efficiency and economics can be improved dramatically by applying N in crops as biomass develops. However, N application to close to flowering decreased seed oil content significantly.

Oil & Protein

The Canadian canola industry contributes approximately $26 billion to the economy annually but only $600 milllion of this accrues from meal production and utilization. This value could grow tremendously if high quality protein products are developed for use in human food products. The soybean industry is investing significantly and rapidly to capture this market. Canola protein related traits include amino acid composition, and cruciferin and napin content. Canola populations developed in Canada have seed oil content up to 49% with seed protein content up to 33%. Mean amino acid content for this population exceeded the national average for canola meal for each amino acid. Mean amino acid content for alanine, cysteine, glycine and methionine (amino acids needed for human health) exceeded the national mean amino acid levels of US soy meal. These populations have been developed in part with producer levy and taxpayers dollars for industry.

Burcon Biosciences (Winnipeg, MB) has 2 commercial protein isolates (Supertein and Puratein) in development. DSM also has a near-commercial protein isolate, CanolaPRO. It has a very high nutritional quality (PDCAAS = 1) and confers all the essential amino acids for muscle growth and immune health in an optimal ratio.

Taurine (Tau) is an amino sulfonic acid which is required for aquafeed, pet food, infant formula and energy drinks. Plants do not make this; it is found only in meat, dairy and human milk. Currently, nearly all supplemental Tau is chemically synthesized in China using carcinogenic and hazardous substance and the final product has been shown to contain arsenic. Plant Sensory Systems has proof of concept for Tau synthesis in canola seeds using cysteine as a precursor. Preliminary data also shows that lines with Tau technology have significant increase in seed oil as well. Canola Tau could be used as a safe, fortified plant protein based ingredient for aquafeed or pet food or a purified ingredient concentrate in food and energy drinks.

Biodegradable industrial lubricants are also highly desirable by industry for “green” chemistry. Their physicochemical and biological properties depend on the unique composition of fatty acid triglycerides. An example is stearic acid which is known to reduce wear of metal surfaces due to its saturation and ability to form dense monolayers. Increased length of carboxylic chains decreases friction. Further improvement of feedstock are needed to displace mineral oils in order to reduce environmental impact. Using predictive mutation breeding, varieties with unstable omega-3 content less than 7% and oleic acid above 90% with erucic acid levels of 58-60% have been developed (HELP – high erucic, low polyunsaturated). Testing shows these specialty oil lines have high heat stability for use in industrial motors, drilling fluid, and other high margin uses as a biodegradable, renewable substitute for mineral oil.

Corteva Agriscience reported on the effect of genotype and location on canola yield and quality. Selecting genotypes that are phenotypically stable across a wide geography is key to the successful development of new canola cultivars for western Canada. A study was conducted to determine the effect of genotype and location on yield, oil, protein, glucosinolates and total saturates. Ninety-seven, 112 and 162 genotypes were evaluated in 2016, 2017 and 2018 growing seasons, respectively, in Manitoba (MB), Saskatchewan (SK) and Alberta (AB) provinces in replicated trials.

In 2016, a high genetic variance for yield (5.87) was observed in MB, with lower variances in SK and AB (2.02 and 2.55, respectively). Genetic variance for yield was high in all three provinces in 2018, SK being the highest (4.09). A low GxE variance for yield was observed in 2017. In 2016, SK had the lowest GxE variance for yield, while in 2018 similar to genetic variance SK had the highest value (4.05). Genetic variance for oil was low in all three provinces in all three years tested, followed by lower GxE variance. A similar pattern was observed for protein and total saturates. Lowest genetic and GxE variance of all the trait analyzed was observed for total saturates. In general, GxE variance was low for all quality traits analyzed. Correlations between genotypes and between locations for yield were highest in 2018. Strong positive correlations between locations were observed for all the quality traits tested in all three years. This information is useful for calculating the heritability of traits and for selecting environments for discriminating genotypes in a testing program.

High fibre content in canola meal remains a bottleneck to incorporate canola meal into all poultry and hog feed formulations / rations. Industrial dehulling of canola prior to crushing was tried in the ’90s but oil loss during the hull separation lowered the economic balance and the process was abandoned. New dehulling and sifting technologies that rapidly and cost-effectively remove hull material and coarse fibre from protein prior to crushing and after de-fatting.