July 28, 2015 - Growers and industry experts have discussed the benefits of straight cutting versus swathing in Western Canada for a number of years. Swathing has traditionally been the harvesting choice for the majority of canola growers. However, as growers become increasingly aware of the benefits of straight cutting, the industry has seen the practice of straight cutting grow in popularity.
Spring planting practices allow for a large number of acres to be planted in a short period of time, but harvesting those acres at the end of the season can create challenges. Swathing canola at the optimum stage is difficult to time, especially during the busy harvest season. Swathing too early can lead to smaller seed with less oil content, while swathing too late can result in an increased risk of pod shatter. These challenges have forced growers to look for alternative methods to harvest their crop.
Straight cutting canola can help reduce time and labour costs and create the potential for higher quality seed and a reduced risk of yield loss that occurs when a field is swathed too early.
"Every year we see people swathing too early out of necessity," said Angela Brackenreed, an agronomist at the Canola Council of Canada. "We know that there's a yield penalty from swathing too early. If some of those acres were moved to straight cut acres, allowing growers to swath at the ideal 50 to 70 percent seed colour change, there could potentially be an economic benefit."
By leaving canola standing in the field, swathing gives the plant more time to mature naturally, which can allow for larger seeds with higher oil content.
Growers in Canada are seeing the benefits of straight cutting. In fact, a recent FarmShift study conducted on behalf of BASF Canada showed that 82 percent of growers who currently straight cut canola have expressed interest in straight cutting more of their acres in the future.
"Although the majority of canola in Canada is still swathed, I think we will definitely see more acres moving towards straight cutting," added Brackenreed. "New varieties coming to the market will really facilitate that trend towards straight cutting."
To maximize the benefits of straight cutting, growers need to consider field selection, seeding rates, and a pre-harvest herbicide application in order to maximize their benefit of straight cutting. Choosing a field for harvesting that has a uniform stand with a well-knit crop and minimal disease will all help to reduce pod shatter. Seeding early and at the proper rate will lead to a higher population of smaller canola plants, which often have less branching and a quicker dry down time.
"A pre-harvest herbicide application can be very important to straight cutting. Green stocks and weeds can make it difficult to cut through and cause issues flowing through the combine," said Bryce Geisel, technical market specialist at BASF Canada. "A pre-harvest application of a herbicide such as Heat LQ can eliminate this problem by drying down the crop and weeds before harvesting."
Heat LQ provides both contact and systemic activity for a complete dry down of crop and weeds, improving harvestability and weed control for the following season.
"Heat LQ is unique in its ability to provide crop and weed dry down with enough systemic ability to reduce the chance of regrowth," added Geisel. "Using Heat LQ with glyphosate in a pre-harvest application will provide uniformity in the field at harvest time, which will allow for reduced time to harvest and less green plant material in the grain, aiding in storability."
Growers applying a pre-harvest herbicide should follow the label directions for timing in order to maximize the benefits of straight cutting.
There are certainly a number of benefits for growers who choose to straight cut canola and many have begun to mix both swathing and straight cutting harvest practices. Growers who consider a combination of both practices at harvest time can often maximize their timing and their yield.