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Technology is the Key to Unlock Improved ROI for Canada’s Canola Growers

By Warren Bills, xarvio Global Commercial Operations – North America
Canadian farmers have come to rely on canola as a staple crop over the past decade, particularly in the western provinces. During that time, canola has become Canada’s second largest crop contributing more than $26 billion to the country’s economy each year. Yet due to recent trade disputes, Canada’s canola surplus is now at an all-time high, according to Statistics Canada, resulting in depressed prices for farmers who already have a nervous eye on their 2019 balance sheets. 
As a result, farmers will be sharpening their pencils this growing season, looking for ways they can get the most out of their canola crops by optimizing inputs and improving yields. Yet, as farmers are well aware, optimizing inputs has always been one of the most challenging parts of operating their business. After all, the weather has a major impact on input performance and there has never been a surefire way to predict final outcome.
Take the fungicide application for sclerotinia, for example. Typically, growers make the decision to apply this fungicide in-season when growing conditions can have a big impact on disease, yield potential and return on investment. In a year like 2019, when commodity prices are down and we are seeing lower precipitation throughout much of the prairies, the fungicide decision will come under some scrutiny. And knowing a fungicide can have a big impact on the final yield it will be important to still protect the most productive canola to reduce the risk of lost yield and generate a positive ROI. But the question remains - which fields and which zones? 
While this may sound like a daunting task there are convenient tools to help farmers make these difficult decisions. Digital farming solutions that can help growers identify the crop stage and biomass levels in their fields are now available and can help growers make decisions without the same anxiousness they may have experienced in the past. Solutions that provide insight into crop development are abundantly helpful in determining which fields to prioritize, while biomass maps can identify the productive areas within a field to target application. These maps are often generated via satellite imagery, are converted into a downloadable prescription file and uploaded into the sprayer monitor. Using this technology, growers are able to control where their fungicide should be applied by focusing their fungicide investment on the most productive areas of the field and avoiding areas with no economic benefit. 
And in the not too distant future, farmers will have even more of these tools available to them. Drones, tractors, combines and sprayers equipped with specialized image recognition sensors are on the verge of coming to market. They can link together with existing digital technologies to give farmers even better information about the health of their crops, pest threats and target application areas for actionable in-season decision making. 
Digital agriculture technologies enable growers to eliminate the guess work that often comes with fungicide application. This added precision enables growers to be more resource efficient and ROI focused, something that is particularly necessary given today’s canola market.