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6 tips for straight combining canola

Most Western Canadian farmers consider swa-thing canola to be the tried and true harvest management strategy. But straight combining could allow farmers to reduce a field operation and gain extra yield from producing larger seed size nurtured by a fully matured plant.

Straight combining canola can be risky because of shatter losses if timing is not optimal. And we were all taught that swathing was the way to go in terms of canola production, but research work is now providing farmers with some interesting information.

I recently attended the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation’s (IHARF) annual Soil and Crop Management Seminar and heard about their work in the area of straight combining canola. Chris Holzapfel, IHARF research manager, has spearheaded some projects to determine if straight combining canola is a viable option, as well as how different management practices might minimize shatter loss.

IHARF research

The studies were completed from 2009 to 2011 at four locations across Saskatchewan (IFARF, the Wheatland Conservation Area Inc. at Swift Current, the Western Applied Research Corporation at Scott, and the Northeast Agricultural Research Foundation in Melfort). Straight combining canola was compared to swathing in terms of overall yield production, as well as measuring shattering losses.

It seems that management and the ability to straight cut your canola in a timely manner has the largest impact in reducing shattering losses. A variety of different management techniques and products were evaluated to help give information to farmers on the best strategies to straight combine their canola successfully.

There were varying results in terms of yield comparisons in the small plot research. Some site years, the swathed canola out-yielded the straight cut canola while other years the opposite was true. Other showed no statistical difference in yield between the two approaches.

The site years that showed a reduced yield with straight cutting also showed increase shatter losses, making it seem that shattering was directly responsible for the reduction in yield. Researchers mentioned that in most of those years, they were unable to straight combine at the proper time, extending the amount of time the crop was left out in the field. As expected the longer the crop was left out in the field past optimal harvest time, the higher the risk, and the larger the losses. Seed loss was measured as high as 27 per cent when the canola was left standing for two to three weeks past the optimal harvest time.

Field-size trials were completed at Indian Head, Sask., in 2010 and 2011 to build upon the information gathered from the four sites. These trials looked at the application of a variety of pod sealants, applied both with and without glyphosate on straight combined canola compared to swathed canola. The field size research showed very similar results to all of the small plot trials.

Pod sealants

There are a variety of pod sealant products available which are designed to reduce pod shatter. The aim of these products is to make shatter-prone crops, like canola, more suited to straight combining. The studies compared the effects of Pod Ceal DC, Pod-Stik, and Desikote Max on shatter losses compared to an untreated check. The research showed no statistical advantage in yield for any of these three products. There was also no statistical benefit to any of the pod sealants in terms of seed loss at harvest time or two to three weeks later.

Varietal differences

For the projects completed in 2009 to 2010, five different canola varieties, including a juncea type (thought to be more shatter resistant) were compared. In the work completed, 5440 LL appeared to have the least amount of pod drop and shatter loss of these varieties, both at harvest as well as two to three weeks later. More work is continuing to help evaluate the fit of different varieties to straight cutting. Twelve new commercially available varieties were looked at in 2011, and will continue to be compared in 2012.

Effect of Glyphosate

Studies to look at the effect of spraying a pre-harvest glyphosate application on harvest management are still in the early stages and need to be looked at further. However, the preliminary work is promising and of great interest to Holzapfel. In past work, the glyphosate was applied with the pod sealant, but for future research he is planning to apply it by itself and aim for spray timing to be similar to when you would swath.

Holzapfel believes that the glyphosate application will help even out the difference in maturity throughout the field. Not having to wait for the green patches in the field to dry down naturally could mean that straight combining up to a week earlier. This could be a very important way to help manage the harvest and reduce the amount of time the crop is left standing.

Equipment considerations

Wheatland Conservation Area Inc. at Swift Current, Sask. completed a project from 2005-07 looking at the effects of header losses and yields with various header types. The header types that were compared were a rigid header, a draper header, a stripper header, and a BISO extension. Researchers found that losses from the stripper header were far higher than the other header types, so they removed it from the study in 2006. There was a slight advantage to the draper header over the rigid header, but the best results came from the BISO extension. The BISO extension showed the lowest header losses as well as the highest yields, 17 per cent higher than the rigid header.

Here are six tips that could help you successfully straight combine canola:

1. Plan to seed a variety that has shown to be more shatter resistant.

2. Aim to have a good plant population — don’t scrimp on your seeding rate. Less shattering occurrs if your crop is dense with intermingling branches to minimize shattering due to the wind.

3. Pre-harvest glyphosate application (on non Roundup Ready canola) can help to even out your crop, accelerating harvest and minimizing the risk of being caught not being able to combine at the optimal time.

4. Carefully consider whether you should look at pod sealants as they haven’t proved to be cost effective throughout this research — a yield benefit was only seen 13 per cent of the time.

5. Only plan to straight cut a manageable number of acres. Being able to straight cut the canola at the proper time is critical to being able to realize yields similar to swathing. Excessive delays or inclament weather (heavy snow) can have a drastic effect on shatter loss and yield.

6. If you’re planning to put straight combining canola into practice on your farm, it may be worth investing in header extensions to minimize header loss.

While straight cut combining canola is a new practice to most farmers, information provided by IHARF and the other contributing locations, aided by funding from Sask Canola, is of interest. IHARF’s new findings, along with the future work they’re planning, can help to reduce farmer’s risk and help farmers make better management decisions. †

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