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What does the future hold for the swather?

Is straight cutting canola a viable option? PAMI reports suggests it could work for many prairie producers

To swath or not to swath: when it comes to canola, that’s been the debate among prairie farmers for more than a few years. By and large, producers have opted to keep a swather in the farm fleet and put it to use. On many prairie farms cutting canola is the only job a swather does. But a research report published this week by PAMI (The Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute) suggests that keeping one solely for work in canola fields may not be a paying proposition.

“Swathing has always been the reliable harvest method for canola in Western Canada,” said Avery Simundsson, project leader with PAMI in Portage la Prairie, in a press announcement. “But it’s good to understand what other options are available. The goal of our study was to provide information that will help people make economic decisions about which harvest method may work for them.”

What the report makes clear is whether a producer should swath or not depends on their priorities, although as I read the report it seems to suggest—when it comes to canola, at least—the swather could rapidly become yesterday’s machine. The following is an excerpt directly from that press release that explains what they found.


Harvesting loss differences between straight cut and swathed fields ranged from 0.4 to 1.7 bushels/acre in the trials

“Conducted in Manitoba during the 2016 growing season and funded by the Canada and Manitoba governments through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, the study evaluated four treatments: Reglone, Heat and glyphosate, natural ripening and swathing, which was the benchmark. Simundsson said the data collected showed the method of harvest does have a significant effect in some areas—productivity, harvest efficiency, fuel consumption, harvest speed, time to harvest and operator experience—but no significant difference was found in yield, engine speed, dockage, oil content, green seed or seed weight. She added there was an expectation that straight cutting would result in larger seeds and higher oil content but that did not turn out to be the case.”

Data within the report show harvesting losses of naturally ripened canola at 1.5 bushels/acre when straight cut compared to 1.1 when swathed. Straight cut losses in crops treated with Reglone rose to 1.9. That jumped to 2.8 for crops sprayed with Heat and Glyphosate.

The report adds that straight cutting is best done with “shatter resistant” canola varieties. And the report’s authors make clear they’re not trying to endorse one particular method over another. But the report suggests straight cutting canola crops may be more appropriate than many producers thought.

All of those productivity advantages, such as reduced fuel consumption and time saved, seem likely to occur if it isn’t necessary to run a swather through a field ahead of the combine. The report notes swathing can help hasten maturity in a field, and the timing of straight cutting canola is important. Those will be important considerations for some producers. But if the fear of harvesting loss is all that’s holding back producers from straight cutting, are the bushels-of-loss-per-acre differences enough to justify the time and expense of swathing?

And the design of some new headers with adjustable cutter bar positions to capture more of the seeds dropped from pod shattering might have an impact on harvest losses as well, although I didn’t see that specifically addressed in the PAMI report.

For the complete PAMI Research Report, visit:






About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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