“It may take a bit more management to produce and straight combine a crop, but we have found that three extra bushels in the bin to be consistent.”
What seemed like poor timing for machinery failure during harvest a few years ago actually turned out to be an opportunity for Saskatchewan farmer Dennis Reimer. When the swather broke down with 30 acres of canola left to go on his Hudson Bay-area farm, Reimer decided he’d get the job done by straight combining.
It was a lucky accident.
It showed Reimer that straight combining not only worked in a pinch, the practice in fact put more canola in the bin.
“We liked what we saw that first year and monitored it closely for three years,” he says. “We found by straight cutting an Argentine canola variety, we save about three bushels per acre.” Eliminating swathing also reduces one field operation, and reduces manpower.
Reimer, who crops about 3,000 acres of wheat, barley, oats, canola and peas, has been straight cutting canola for the past six seasons. From the initial 30 acres he steadily increased the amount each year, until he did all 1,100 of his canola acres in 2008. Just to spread out workload at harvest, he is going to back that off in coming years. “Ideally I want to straight cut about three-quarters of the
canola crop and I’ll swath the rest,” says Reimer. “It will help spread out the workload, and it will also leave some crop swathed in the event of strong winds.”
Over the past five years Reimer says he has been able to bin an extra three bushels per acre by straight cutting InVigor canola. He also figures seed quality is better. By leaving the crop stand to mature longer, he says seeds are larger and plumper than when he was swathing. “That extra time gives the plant a chance to fill every seed,” he says. His long-term canola
yield average is 37 bushels per acre, however, with good-to-ideal growing conditions in 2008, the yield averaged about 47 bushels per acre.
Reimer would usually swath the crop at about 50 per cent seed colour change and then leave it in the swath for 10 days to two weeks before combining. Now, he leaves the standing crop to mature, aiming to straight cut when it has reached about 9 per cent moisture. Depending on harvest conditions, he will combine it as high as 10.5 to 11 per cent moisture and then dry it down. Virtually all harvested canola goes in aeration bins until it is sitting at 9 per cent moisture.
Reimer harvests with two John Deere combines, one a model 9600 and the other an STS. They are equipped with 30-foot MacDon model 960 and 962 draper headers. The headers also have pickup reels. Although Reimer hasn’t had experience with other makes of headers, he suspects that any draper header would work equally well. He believes header width is a factor. If the header is much wider (such as 36-foot, for example),
there might be increased risk of shelling out as that much more crop has to be processed. He also suspects there may be more shatter loss if using an auger-type header for straight cutting.
Reimer adds that cutting high also helps reduce shatter loss. He cuts the crop just below the pods, leaving about 18 inches of stubble. He also uses what some might consider a lower seeding rate — about 4.5 pounds per acre. At that rate there are fewer, larger plants that tend to branch out. “You need to be targeting a 30 bushel per acre yield or higher so that you get the growth and the plants knit together,” says Reimer. “If you do get a wind, there isn’t as much crop movement and shatter loss.”
Reimer follows a minimum till cropping system. He makes one pass over fields either in the fall or early spring to apply anhydrous ammonia. The tool bar equipped with three-inch wide openers disturbs the soil and helps it to warm up faster, and it also provides early weed control.
“We usually try to get the canola seeded as early as possible, and still avoid risk of an early spring frost,” he says. “So it usually goes in around May 15. We apply about half of the anhydrous ammonia in the fall and the other half in the spring. And unless we are really late with seeding — like early June — we don’t need a pre-seeding burn off for weed control.” A single in-crop treatment with Liberty herbicide, tank mixed with a grassy weed control product, provides effective weed control.
Reimer seeds with a Morris Maxim 40-foot air drill. The fertilizer package usually includes 80 to 100 pounds of actual nitrogen, about 25 pounds of phosphate along with Jumpstart to enhance phosphorous uptake, and 20 to 25 pounds of sulphur fines — 21-0-0-24 — which is applied with a broadcast applicator. The sulphur goes on just before seeding, so it can be incorporated with the seeding operation.
“It may take a bit more management to produce and straight combine a crop, but we have found that three extra bushels in the bin to be consistent,” says Reimer. “Two years we did side-by-side comparisons with yield monitors and the third year we actually had a weigh wagon come out. You have to be more patient and let the crop mature longer, but it does pay off.”
Lee Hart is field editor of Grainews, based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]