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First Report of Horned Lark Damage to Canola Seedlings

First Report of Horned Lark Damage to Canola Seedlings

FS237E
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William Schillinger, Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Scott Werner, National Wildlife Research Center, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services
Winter canola is an important crop in the Pacific Northwest, both as a biodiesel feedstock and a wheat-based crop rotation. Crop damage can be frustrating and costly, especially when you’re dealing with a new pest. Horned larks destroyed fields of canola seedlings in Washington State, and farmers and researchers are working to find a solution. This first report of horned lark damage to canola seedlings describes horned larks, the damage they caused, and measures taken in an attempt to control them.
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Abstract

The Washington State Oilseed Cropping Systems Research and Extension Project (WOCS) is funded by the Washington State Legislature to meet expanding biofuel, food, and feed demands with diversified rotations in wheat based cropping systems. The WOCS fact sheet series provides practical oilseed production information based on research findings in eastern Washington. More information can be found at: http://css.wsu.edu/biofuels/.

Acknowledgments

Funding and support for the WOCS provided by:

Washington State Legislature, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington Department of Commerce, and the Washington State University Energy Program.

WOCS-FINAL-LOGO-outline

 

Abstract

Winter canola is considered the most promising domestically produced oilseed feedstock for the biodiesel industry and for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems in the Inland Pacific Northwest. Winter canola field experiments conducted in east-central Washington were completely destroyed and commercial fields were damaged over several years by large flocks of horned larks that ate the cotyledon leaves of pre-emerged and newly emerged seedlings. Numerous control strategies were attempted in field experiments, including laying bird netting over the entire experiment, placing a life-size predator decoy in a field experiment, blasting a loud propane-powered cannon, and mixing garlic with canola seed before planting followed by spraying garlic water on the soil surface. None of the attempted control methods were successful. This is the first report of horned lark damage to pre-emerged and newly emerged canola seedlings. We discuss questions relevant to our unique encounter and non-lethal chemical repellents for the protection of canola crops associated with horned lark depredation.

Importance of Canola as a Biodiesel Feedstock

The Washington State Legislature (2006) passed a law that requires at least two percent of diesel sold within the state must be biodiesel. This law further mandates that at least five percent must be biodiesel when the state’s Department of Agriculture determines that in-state production of oilseed feedstock can satisfy this requirement. Since 2007, the legislature has provided annual funding averaging $300,000 to Washington State University (WSU) for research on production of oilseed feedstocks.

Biodiesel feedstock production research at WSU has largely centered on winter canola (Figure 1) due to high seed yields compared to spring canola, camelina, and safflower. Inclusion of canola in wheat-based rotations affords an excellent opportunity for control of grass weeds and soilborne diseases and enhances nitrogen mineralization that boosts grain yield of the subsequent wheat crop (Kirkegaard et al. 1994; Seymour et al. 2012).

An oilseed crushing plant with a capacity of 1,100 tons of canola seed per day was opened in Warden, WA in 2013. This crushing facility provides a local market and reduces transportation costs for canola farmers in eastern Washington. The majority of canola feedstock for the Warden crushing facility is currently imported from Canada and North Dakota.

Figure 1. Winter canola in an on-farm field experiment near Davenport, WA in 2011. Horned larks did not infest this site. Long-term experiments at this site (18-inch annual average precipitation) have documented rainfed winter canola seed yields as high as 3,800 lb/acre. Winter canola is considered the most important feedstock for biodiesel production in Washington State. Photo by W.F. Schillinger.

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