Steve Larocque of Beyond Agronomy in Three Hills, Alberta, has been straight cutting canola for the last four years. “The main reason we switched to straight cutting was because we couldn’t find a swather with a 30-foot knife that would work in our controlled traffic system,” explains Larocque. “Using a John Deere 9750 with a 30-foot knife we are able to straight cut the exact width of the tramlines. And in the four years since, we’ve learned a lot about straight cutting canola in our area.”
One thing growers need to know right off the bat is that straight cutting may not be an option on every farm, but it certainly is worth looking into.
Straight cut timing
Larocque uses a pre-harvest glyphosate application in the first two weeks of September to get the crop to finish ripening and dry down slowly. “We’ve found spraying glyphosate at the 30 to 40 per cent seed colour change stage works best for us,” he explains. “There needs to be some green material for the glyphosate to work.” The crop will generally be ready for straight cutting about three weeks after this pre-harvest operation.
“If you swath and then combine, you will have your crop in the bin about a week earlier than pre-harvest glyphosate and straight cutting,” says Larocque. “That’s been our experience.”
There are situations where straight cutting is advantageous. “If your area is prone to high winds in the fall, straight cutting offers advantages,” says Larocque. “One year, we had 113 kilometer per hour winds when the crop was one to two days away from harvest. Yes, we had shattering losses, but we still harvested 30 bushels per acre. But that was a lot better than trying to harvest swaths that had been blown asunder and into the ditches and fence lines. Average yields in our area were about 15 bushels per acre after that wind tore through.”
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Larocque also finds seed size is increased with straight cutting. “We are leaving the crop to ripen longer whereas swathing stops the ripening process,” he says. Cost-wise, if a farmer is using a pre-harvest glyphosate application and then straight cutting, there are probably no savings. However, if the pre-harvest application is not required, there will be reduced costs and one less field operation. This can also help with overall harvest management and timing.
Additionally, Larocque says he finds seed losses with straight cutting are equal or less than compared to swathing and combining. “When the crop is swathed, it’s cut lower and there is a lot of volume to combine,” he explains. “When we straight cut, we are leaving taller stubble, taking in less material and find the combine can do a better job of separating the seed from straw and chaff.”
Larocque says many farmers perceive canola to be a riskier crop to straight cut, but so far, his experience has been that there have been no greater seed losses with straight cutting than with swathing.
“The decision to swath or straight cut comes down to each individual grower’s situation,” explains Larocque. “How much labour and equipment is available? Can all the canola acres be swathed at the ideal seed colour change? My experience has been very positive on my farm with straight cutting. There are lots of resources out there to help analyze each method and determine what may work better on the farm.”