Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Canola growth and development in central western NSW

K A Hertel

Department of Primary Industries PO Box 865, Dubbo NSW 2830 Australia. Email:


The aim of this study was to measure crop development and yield accumulation throughout a growing season to enhance the understanding of these processes and to link them to agronomic management decisions.

Two canola crops trials located on the plains and on the slopes areas of central western New South Wales were monitored throughout the 2011 growing season to detail differences in crop growth and development. The influence of thermal time (TT) on the seed germination and emergence, vegetative growth phases and reproductive development, including seed development, were monitored.

Findings showed overall responses to TT to be closely aligned at the two sites, crop cycles completed by 2569Cd at Wellington (W) and 2336Cd at Gilgandra (G). Individual phase durations were consistent: sowing to emergence - 112Cd (W), 105Cd (G); emergence to stem elongation - 760Cd (W), 747Cd (G); stem elongation to start of flowering - 288Cd (W), 364Cd (G) and flowering period - 572Cd (W), 616Cd (G). Environmental conditions throughout much of the growing season were favourable, with mean temperatures close to optimums for canola and frequent rainfall events. Both decreasing PAW and maximum daily temperatures exceeding 30C impacted on crop development during the final 2 weeks of the study. Differences in daily TT averaged 12.3Cd at W and 18.4Cd at G. The rate of rapid oil and yield accumulation under favourable seasonal conditions was found to be strongly correlated to TT. The end of these periods measured in TT was comparable at both sites. Rapid oil accumulation ceased at 2032Cd at G and 1990Cd at W; yield accumulation ceased at 2256Cd at G and 2201Cd at W.


canola, day degrees, oil, yield, temperature


Canola is the third largest crop by area produced in Australia (Edwards & Hertel 2011). Growing areas extend over a wide latitudinal range extending from Tasmania to southern Queensland, and subsequent large variations in photothermal regimes influence crop development rates (Robertson et al. 2002). Canola is widely perceived to be a high risk crop to grow, with seed yield and oil concentrations often below expectations.

Knowledge and understanding of canola physiology, particularly during pod and seed development is poorly understood (Hertel, unpublished data). This study is part of an agronomy extension project to improve the knowledge and understanding of canola growth and development amongst growers, agronomists and consultants and industry contractors. Through better understanding of the linkages of environmental factors with crop physiological responses and crop management operations, agronomic and economic performance can be maximised.


Site details

Field experiments were sown at Gilgandra and Wellington using the imidazolinone tolerant variety 45Y82 on 29 April and 3 May 2011 respectively. 45Y82 is an early to mid maturing variety (Mathews and McCaffery 2012). The vernalisation response of Australian spring type cultivars is generally regarded as absent or weak (Robertson et al. 2002). Granulock 15 fertiliser was applied at 100 kg/ha at sowing and sites treated to protect against mice with bromodiolinone-treated grain. Canola seed was sown at 2 kg/ha at G and 3 kg/ha at W using a cone plot seeder in 5 rows with 30 cm row spacing into standing wheat stubble.


Designs at each site were in Randomised Complete Blocks with treatments within replicates spatially arranged using DiGGer (Coombes, 2002) to improve treatment neighbour balance. Ten plots (G) or twelve plots (W) were sown with 4 replications. Biomass sampling dates were randomly assigned to these plots.


Hastings data loggers were placed at 1.2 m above ground level under shade in Plot 1 of each trial. Air temperatures were measured hourly and maximum and minimum recorded throughout the growing season. Measurements commenced the day after sowing and ceased when the crop was harvested at 8% seed moisture content. Thermal time (TT) time was calculated based on maximum and minimum using a base temperature of 0C (Virgil et al. 1997, Gabrielle et al. 1998). Optimal temperatures were not used in the calculations. Growth stages (GS) were recorded throughout the season, with frequency increasing after the commencement of stem elongation.

Sampling commenced less than a week after the end of flowering (GS 69), 48 days (G) and 40 days (W) after the start of flowering. The number of sampling times totalled 9 at G and 12 at W. Sampling took place every 3 – 4 days initially with later times occurring every 5 – 7 days. At each date a representative area containing approximately 25 plants (G) and 35 plants (W) was taken from the middle 3 rows. The individual main stem raceme was removed from each plant and divided into basal, middle and upper thirds, placed immediately into an insulated box containing ice bricks before placement in a refrigerator until processing. Processing was completed within 8 hours of cutting. Pods were removed from each of the raceme sections and seeds were removed and weighed from a 50 pod sub-sample. From each sub-sample 300 seeds were counted and weighed (fresh weight) then dried for 3 days at 70C before re-weighing. Seed colour at each date was recorded. The remaining plant material was cut 20 cm above ground level, placed in bags and air dried. It was then threshed and seed weight, seed size and seed quality including oil, protein, glucosinolates and moisture were determined. Seed quality data were determined using the standard methods described by Seberry et al. (2011). Total oil content of canola was calculated to 6% moisture.

Statistical analysis

Results were analysed using GenStat 5 using transformations when necessary.


The duration of each phase of canola growth and development is determined by temperature, vernalisation and photoperiod. The time to complete phases is based on thermal time (TT) expressed as day degrees (Cd).

The duration of the growing season from sowing to seed maturity (8% moisture) was calculated to be 2567Cd at W and 2336Cd at G. This corresponds to 193 days (W) and 175 days (G) (Table 1).

Table 1: Canola phase lengths in time (days) and thermal time (Cd) and rainfall at Wellington and Gilgandra




Crop stage







Sowing to emergence







Emergence to stem elongation







Sowing to stem elongation







Stem elongation to start of flowering (10%)







Start of flowering (10%)







End of flowering (5%)







Flowering period







Sowing to 40% seed moisture







Sowing to 8% seed moisture







NOTE: Seed moisture refers to the mean % moisture of seeds on the main raceme

Crop growth and development was closely aligned with TT at both locations. Figures reflect the differences between the geographical locations, W in the NSW central western slopes and G on the NSW central western plains.

Canola is a long day plant, where the duration to flowering is shortened under long days (Major, 1980; Mendham and Salisbury 1995). The period from the end of the juvenile phase to floral initiation is responsive to photoperiod (Nanda et al 1996), whereas other phases are unresponsive. Photoperiod differences between the two site locations were assumed to be minimal as they differed little in latitude. Temperature determines the duration between germination, emergence and the end of the juvenile period, from stem elongation to mid flowering (Nanda et al 1996).

The TT for seedling emergence was 112Cd (W) and 105Cd (G). This is comparable to 110Cd TT measured by Gabrielle et al. (1998) and Nanda et al. (1995). The total TT was consistent between emergence and stem elongation; 648Cd at W and 642Cd G. The response of crop development after the end of flowering at W increased at a greater rate compared to G. Suggested main contributing reasons include the crop response to changes in plant available water (PAW) where rainfall during this period measured 131 mm at W and 64 mm G.

Crop water demand is the consequence of interactions involving the timing of rainfall events, stage of crop development, overall crop biomass and temperature regime effects. Crop moisture stress affected the duration of this period. The time taken for the average seed moisture content on the main raceme to reach 40% was 38 days at W and 24 days at G, reflecting changes in the daily rate of plant development.

The rate of development of each crop phase is generally hastened by increasing temperature in controlled environment conditions (Nanda et al. 1995, Morrison et al. 1989). In the field however, the rate of crop growth and development is impacted by a range of factors, including variations in soil moisture, nutrition, disease, pests, weeds and competition within crops for resources and their interactions.

Early crop growth during the first weeks after sowing were characterised by the absence of rainfall at G. The crop response to the main limiting factor - declining PAW, was to decrease the duration of the phases. Initial G daily TT decreased from 13.2Cd /day between sowing and emergence to 10.4Cd /day from stem elongation to the start of flowering. Small rainfall events were intermittent during the stem elongation phase at both sites. Effective rainfall did not fall until a few days after the commencement of flowering at G or just prior to at W. Throughout the period of flowering at both locations, 70 mm at W and 60 mm at G increased PAW. Mean daily TT during flowering increased to 14.3Cd /day at G and 14.7Cd /day at W.

The duration of the seed fill period - between the end of flowering to 40% seed moisture, was distinct in its apparent differences - at W this phase extended to 38 days in contrast to 24 days at G. Based on TT however, they were very consistent. Mean TT was 16.9Cd /day/day at W and 16.1Cd /day at G. Environmental conditions during the final crop phase as seed dried down was characterised by large differences in site rainfall, 123.5 mm at W and 64 mm at G and successive days of maximum temperatures exceeding 30C. This impacted on the rate of seed desiccation causing a divergence in calculated daily TT, 12.3Cd /day at W and 18.4Cd /day at G. Daily seed moisture losses averaged 2.3% at W and 2.7% at G.

Crop performance

Figure 1. Thermal time effects on yield and oil accumulation in canola at Wellington and Gilgandra – 2011

Changes in crop yield and oil content as seed development progressed reflected similar patterns at both sites (Figure 1). Highest rate of yield accumulation occurred over 10 (G) to 16 (W) day periods. This rapid increase, measured in TT from sowing commenced at 2081C (G) and 1885Cd (W) and continued before plateauing. Comparing the sites, the length of the rapid yield accumulation stage was quite different, 175Cd at G and 518Cd at W. At both sites yields plateaued at similar TTs, 2256Cd at G and 2201Cd at W, a difference of 55Cd.

Highest rate of oil accumulation occurred over 14 day (G) and 21 day period (W), commencing at 1805C at G and 1685Cd at W (Figure 1). The duration of the period of rapid oil accumulation was 227Cd at G and 305Cd at W, a difference of 78Cd between each site. Frequent rainfall events throughout this period at both sites, combined with average daily temperatures of 13.7C (W) and 15.2C (G) were favourable environmental conditions for high oil concentrations to be realised.


This paper presents the results of canola crops grown under field conditions and their responses to environmental influences. It provides a snapshot of some baseline figures that demonstrate acknowledged scientific understanding of canola growth and development. The seasonal conditions that prevailed during this study, particularly during the reproductive phases enabled natural physiological development to progress relatively unhindered by adverse environmental conditions, a contrast to frequent typical field situations. It provides a reference to compare field crops responses to unfavourable climatic conditions. Better understanding of the production outcomes of these responses will lead to making more informed and practical crop decisions. The large range of locations and the subsequent climate variations where canola is grown in Australia challenges crop production. Improved knowledge across industry participants will assist confidence and reliability of canola production.


The author wishes to thank Dr Neil Fettell for advice in refining the methodology, discussion of the results and comments on the paper, John DeLyall of Pioneer for the supply of seed, Scott Boyd and Barry Unger for sowing and in-crop management of the experiments, Jayne Jenkins, Rob Pither and Jimmy Presley for assistance in threshing harvest samples, Donna Seberry for seed analysis, Neil Coombes for the design and analysis of the experiment and the Mason Family (Wellington) and Kevin & Jenny Kilby (Gilgandra) for the experiment area in their canola paddocks.


Coombes, NE (2002). The reactive tabu search for efficient correlated experimental designs. Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK.

Edwards, J and Hertel, KA (2011). Canola growth and development. PROCROP series. Department of Primary Industries

Gabrielle B, Denoroy P, Gosse G and Andersen MN (1998). Development and evaluation of a CERES-type model for winter oilseed rape. Field crops research 57, 95-111

Major DJ (1980). Photoperiod response characteristics controlling flowering of nine crop species. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 60, 777-784

Mathews P and McCaffery D (2012). Winter crop variety sowing guide 2012. Department Primary Industries. pp 67

Mendham NJ, Salisbury PA. Physiology: Crop development, growth and yield. In: DS Kimber and DI McGregor, Editors. Brassica oilseeds: production and utilisation. Wallingford: CAB; 1995; pp. 11-64

Morrison MJ, McVetty PBE and Shaykewich CF (1996). The determination and verification of a baseline temperature for the growth of westar summer rape. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 69, 455-464

Nanda R, Bhargava SC, Tomar DPS, Rawson HM (1996). Phenological development of Brassica campestris, B juncea, B napus and B. carinata, Field Crops Research 42, 125-134

Robertson MJ, Watkinson AR, Kirkegaard JA, Holland JF, Cawley S, Potter TD, Burton W, Walton GH, Moot D, Farre I and Asseng S (2002). Environmental and genotypic control of time to flowering in canola and mustard. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 53, 793-809

Seberry DE, Parker PA and Ayton JG (2011) Quality of Australian Canola 2010-11.Vol 17, 31-32

Vigil MF, Anderson RL and Beard WE (1997). Base temperature and growing-degree-hour requirements for the emergence of canola. Crop Science 37, 844-849

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page