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Canola straight cutting on the rise


Some growers are ditching their swathers in favour of straight combining in canola fields

Straight cutting is common practice for cereal crops, but canola presents unique challenges, particularly the risk of pod shatter, that have kept growers from adopting the practice.

But that may be changing.

According to a recent BASF Canada survey, the number of growers straight cutting canola rose by 50 per cent from 2013 to 2014’s harvest season. The survey, conducted by FarmShift, polled 400 growers in Western Canada with minimum canola acre thresholds.

Straight cutting allows growers to delay harvest until the canola crop is fully mature at 60 to 75 per cent colour change, increasing yields and saving on expensive swathing equipment.

“We’re finding that the main driver (behind the increase) is the yield benefit,” says Danielle Eastman, western herbicides brand manager for BASF Canada. “The second driver is that growers are able to find efficiencies at harvest, timing their work so they are swathing some fields and straight cutting other fields.”

Tips for straight cutting

A range of new products is addressing the risks associated with straight cutting canola. Bayer CropScience’s canola variety InVigor L140P offers pod-shatter resistance.

According to James Humphries, manager of oilseed traits with Bayer CropScience, growers’ concerns about pod shatter are understandable, but risks can be overcome with careful management. “Straight cutting can become a viable option regardless of the conditions,” he says. “That being said, when a grower is going to try 140 for the first time, start slowly, don’t lose all your acres to straight cutting. Become comfortable with it.”

Humphries suggests starting with an even field with no sloughs or potholes, planting a pod-shatter resistant variety and being aggressive on weed control.

BASF is also promoting the herbicide Heat LQ for pre-harvest crop and broadleaf weed drydown, which helps growers control harvest timing.

“Heat LQ is a great option for canola growers because it helps them get their crop off sooner and makes straight cutting less risky,” says Eastman. “Once growers apply Heat tank-mixed with glyphosate, we’re showing faster dry-down timing than for glyphosate alone. It dries down the entire stem as well as the pod and it’s easier to feed through the combine.”

Growers should evaluate whether to use a desiccant based on how early or late the field is seeded. “It’s going to vary on a field by field basis,” says Humphries. “Some years you might have to. If you have good weed control, you’re not using desiccant because of weeds, but because you want to bring the crop in because it’s late in the season.”

Humphries also recommends carefully evaluating equipment. “Some growers who have trouble don’t have the right equipment for straight cutting,” he says. “Talk to other farmers about settings on the combine, or talk to the manufacturers to make sure you’re maximizing your combines.”

Monitoring bins is also key, he says. With straight cutting, there’s more of a chance of green material getting caught in with the crop. “Keep an eye on that to make sure nothing gets in the bins. Make sure the moisture isn’t higher than expected and the bins don’t heat up after harvest,” he says.

Evaluating the risk

Straight cutting canola may be making headlines, but many growers say they are still unwilling to risk it.

“There are lots of things that are appealing about it for sure — we’ve tried it before and it went okay, but I’ve had first hand experience either helping the guys or being involved in situations where it didn’t go so well, where a lot of the crop was lost because of wind damage or hail or being out there too long,” says Mark Bratrud, a grower and independent consultant based near Weyburn, Sask.

Bratrud says that his farm straight-cuts pulses and lentils, but having another delicate crop to straight-cut is simply too risky.

“I’ve been on fields that have straight-cut well, but I’ve also been on fields where guys have lost 75 per cent of their crop and there’s nothing they can do about it. All of a sudden, $15/acre to go over it with a swather seems like a good idea. That’s the worst-case scenario, but you have to determine whether you’re prepared to stomach the potentially one in five or one in 10 years that that happens.”

Kelly Wheeler, a grain farmer near Strathmore, Alta., says straight cutting can be a good option for growers with damaged or multi-stage crops. His operation began straight cutting in 2008. “In our area, we kept getting hail. Canola crops would get hailed in late June and then they’d be a multi-stage mess, so we started desiccating and straight cutting those crops.

“In a crop that was maybe half hailed, you were able to get more yield and capture more of the re-growth and stage the crop better that way,” he says. “For crops that were really damaged by hail, it was a quick way to clean them up.”

Wheeler says growers who decide to try straight cutting canola, but have a sparse crop or don’t use a shatter-resistant variety need to be prepared to spend on desiccants.

“You have to be careful. Wind can blow swaths as well — and that’s the trade-off. There’s no silver bullet. You make the best decision at the time,” he says.

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Julienne Isaacs

Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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