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The straight up on straight cut canola

Lessons learned after straight cutting canola on an Alberta farm for six growing seasons

Since 2013 we have exclusively straight cut canola on our farm and we’ve learned a lot along the way.

Some years the “straw” came out of the back of the combine looking more like silage and we learned that if the soil moisture profile was still full at the end of August we should desiccate with glyphosate or Heat.

Some years the crop had a particular lean to it and we had to experiment with the rotation of the cross auger, the direction of cutting and the speed of the draper to get the material to flow into the feederhouse.

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Some years, the canola was good and dry when we got to those fields and we learned how super dry, fluffy canola likes to float up over the reel!

Now, all that learning may not sound like a lot of fun, but for the most part I have no regrets about straight-cutting canola. We’ve learned to manage the standing crop and it’s saved us a lot of money on custom swathing or having to go out and buy a self-propelled swather.

Pod shatter

One concern people often have when they think about straight cutting canola is shattered pods. I’ve been enthusiastic in telling my fellow farmers that this has never been a problem for us. We’ve left canola standing in some pretty strong winds and seen very little pod shatter or drop. After those same winds, I’ve seen my neighbours’ canola swaths spread hither and yon. You know the scene — canola stalks everywhere. It would probably be better to have some sort of vacuum attachment on your combine so you can pick up not just the swath, but everything between the swaths and along the fence line, too. On those years, I’ve always thought: I’d rather have standing canola in a wind than swathed.

We have grown a couple of different pod shatter reduction hybrids over the years, from both the Liberty Link and the Round-up Ready systems. However, we always found a yield lag in those varieties, so we didn’t see the value in spending the extra money for the pod shatter reduction genetics.

After a heavy wind, there were many shattered pods. Just the centre membrane of the pod was left attached to the stem.
 photo: Sarah Hoffmann

Every year is different

But… every year we keep learning. This year, on October 13th, almost 4 months after our canola was seeded, we had an extremely windy day and night. The next morning we went out to combine and there was a white tinge to our canola fields. I got a sick feeling in my stomach as I walked towards the edge of the crop. On closer inspection I saw many shattered pods. Just the centre membrane of the pod was left attached to the stem. It was these membranes that showed up white against the rest of the crop.

Some of our canola had been desiccated, some hadn’t. We had three fields of L252 (a non-pod shatter reduction hybrid) and one field of L233P (a pod shatter reduction hybrid). Visually the difference between the L233P and the L252 was striking. There were very few dropped or shattered pods in the L233P field, especially compared to the fields planted to L252. The extra $10 per acre that it costs to seed the pod shatter reduction hybrids certainly would have paid off this year.

This photo compares Invigor L252 and L140P in the fall of 2018. photo: Courtesy Allison McLennan, BASF

Also, unlike past years, most of the canola swaths I drove by on the way to my field, stayed in place remarkably well. Maybe all the rains we had had up to that point were weighing them down. For the first time, I did feel a bit envious of my neighbours who had swathed their canola.

I think the biggest difference between this year and previous years where our canola had stayed intact despite the wind, was how late the crop was out. It had been through several snowfalls and rain events and I believe the plants were starting to rot and had a lot less integrity than they would have had if we had the same wind event a few weeks earlier. The L233P hybrid certainly looked better visually. There were far fewer shattered pods on the ground. I can’t give a number on how many bushels we lost in the wind, since we didn’t harvest any canola before the wind to compare results. My one neighbour thought he lost up to 40 per cent on one field. My fields that were desiccated did not seem to fare better or worse than the ones that were not.

So, the lesson for this year is: if you plan to have your canola stay out four weeks later than it normally would and put it through several wetting and drying cycles, then maybe straight cutting is not for you.

Of course, I am saying that a bit tongue in cheek. No one plans for a harvest like the one we had in 2018, but it’s good to be aware of the potential risks. We will continue to straight cut our canola. We are planning to put in more acres of hybrids with pod shatter reduction technology. They cost about $10 per acre more, which equals about one bushel: an investment that would have had a significant return this year.

About the author


Sarah Hoffmann

Sarah Hoffman, formerly Sarah Weigum, grows pedigreed seed and writes at Three Hills, Alta. Follow her on Twitter: @sweigum.

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