Harsh Conditions Limit Cereal Grain Yield Increases

CANADA - A researcher with the University of Saskatchewan suggests harsh western Canadian growing conditions are the biggest factor limiting improvements in cereal grain yields, writes Bruce Cochrane.
calendar icon 22 November 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

Prairie pork producers have expressed concern over the fact that plant breeders have continued to improve corn yields while barley yield increases have failed to keep pace, shifting the economic advantage of feeding hogs from western Canada to the US mid-west.

Dr Brian Rossnagel, an oat and barley breeder with the University of Saskatchewan's Crop Development Centre, says, if you look at where the crops are grown and the limitations of our environment, cereal yields in western Canada have been going up at about the same rate as most other crop yields elsewhere in the world.

Dr Brian Rossnagel-University of Saskatchewan

There's lot's of talk and hype about, if the big companies take over and we do transgenic approaches and so on, we'll see massive yield increases.

It's simply not at all logical from a science point of view or the reality of our environment point of view.

Farmers, growers and feeders in western Canada have to remember that we are in one of the toughest environments in the world due to a short growing season, usually a lack of moisture in much of western Canada, anywhere in the world other than some of the areas in the eastern block of the former Soviet Union.

The reality is that we are limited in the quantities we can produce here by our environment.

Even if you make major changes genetically, a five percent yield change on a 150 bushel crop of corn in Iowa is seven and a half bushels and you can measure that.

A five per cent yield change on a 70 bushel barley crop in western Canada is three and a half and honestly I doubt most people can even measure that.

Dr Rossnagel says we have seen a steady increase in cereal yields and will continue to as long as there's a reasonable amount of resources going into the plant breeding activities.

He says the massive investment in crops like corn and soybeans relative to cereal grains has been the really big difference.

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