Straight cutting comes to canola

It’s not too early to be thinking about your canola harvest. With Canada’s short growing season and unpredictable autumn weather, harvest timing is a careful balancing act. Using a variety of harvesting techniques can take some of the risk off the table. “Straight cutting canola is now a practical option for growers in western Canada, says James Humphris, manager, oilseed crops/traits, with Bayer CropScience Canada. “With the introduction of pod shatter traits, some crops can be left standing until the very end of the season without losing out on yield.”

Currently around 9 per cent of prairie canola growers straight cut their crop. But last season, Humphris says, 50 per cent of growers who seeded InVigor L140P — Bayer’s hybrid with pod shatter technology — chose to straight cut. “This was a big shift, especially in a year where the hybrid was available only in limited amounts,” he says.

The majority of growers in western Canada have a straight cutting header for their combine, but typically use it for cereal crops. While they don’t need specialized equipment to straight cut canola, they can configure their combine a bit differently for a more successful harvest of the broadleaf crop.

“The front end equipment used to harvest cereal crops can be adjusted for straight cutting canola, says Craig Mosher, senior sales and service representative with John Deere. “With a draper header, for example, adding a Top Crop auger helps push the bushy crop onto the belt for better feeding.”

Mosher adds that if you’re already using an auger on a combine, there tends to be a productivity advantage since this setup works with all the companion crops a canola grower typically harvests. In western Canada, he notes, straight cutting canola is becoming more popular each year so John Deere is continually looking for ways to improve harvest efficiency.

“We encourage growers to ask questions of their local equipment dealers to make sure they are using their combine in the best way to further eliminate pod shatter,” says Humphris. “We are evaluating practical adjustments, such as reel speed, to ensure as much seed as possible makes it into the bin.”

Think ahead

With this year’s crop in the ground, growers have already made the decision to use a pod shatter variety or not. But they still have some flexibility in how to harvest. At this stage, they can begin checking for pointers for help in deciding whether to straight cut a crop.

“To get the most out of a straight cut crop, you need to make harvest method decisions on a field-by-field basis,” says Humphris. “The best fields to straight cut have an even stand, and were seeded to a relatively flat landscape. Weeds should also be well managed.”

With straight cutting, you let the crop mature fully while still upright. That allows ancillary branches to finish and the seeds to ripen, which in turn can mean up to two weeks more time to get the rest of your crop off. »

“Many growers with large acreages have to start swathing when the crop is too green,” he says. “But if they seed a hybrid with pod shatter technology they can start swathing closer to optimal timing, without worrying about it getting too ripe on the other end. If you are cutting it early you are giving up yield,” explains Humphris. “While pod shatter technology doesn’t increase yield, it protects the optimal yield that the plants can build.”

Straight cutting brings yield gain

The 2013-14 harvest management trials conducted by Bayer across western Canada looked at harvest timing and technique, and their impact on canola yields.

Demonstration strip trials tested three InVigor hybrids — In Vigor 5440, InVigor L130 and InVigor L140P. Strips of each hybrid were harvested at three different times. The first was swathed at the standard time (50 to 60 per cent seed colour change), the second was a late swath at 90 per cent seed colour change and the third was straight cut. Twenty-two trials were successfully harvested in 2013, and 19 in 2014 across all three prairie provinces.

“The biggest yield influence across the trials was weather,” says Al Eadie, market development manager with Bayer CropScience Canada. “There was a lot more shattering in 2014 than the previous year because of wet/dry cycles and wind. The pod shatter hybrid when straight cut really shone as there was a lot of shelling with conventional hybrids.”

Market development specialists also looked at the thousand-kernel weight for InVigor L140P when swathed at normal time compared to straight cutting, and they found a direct correlation between seed size and yield. When straight cut, they recorded a 5.5 per cent increase in seed weight and an overall 5 per cent yield increase.

“We saw a consistent yield advantage for the pod shatter hybrid when it was straight cut,” says Eadie. “This is new technology and a lot of growers seeded it in 2014 but still swathed it.” The trials show that anyone who seeds InVigor L140P should straight cut or late swath it at 90 per cent colour change for optimal yield. Canola will keep building seed weight and yield the longer you let it stand.

“I think the pod shatter trait is one of the biggest technology changes we’ve had in canola for a long time,” adds Eadie. “It will change the way guys harvest canola, which will delay the timing of harvest. They’ll start later — at say 60 per cent — to swath some of their canola, and then move onto their InVigor L140P and end up with better results overall with less risk from weather-related loss.”

Humphris adds that it’s important to keep an eye on crops when deciding whether to straight cut, but sometimes a crop will look like it’s lost more to pod shatter than it really has. It may look bad over the top, but he says canola holds most of its yield in the middle and bottom of the plant and growers should give straight cutting a chance.

Bayer will be looking at volunteer counts this spring, expecting to see lower volunteer numbers in the InVigor L140P strips since less seed was left on the ground last harvest. This should help reduce disease risk and ensure that growers are able to seed the latest technology without volunteers in subsequent crops.

“By the time harvest comes around, a grower has invested all the money he’s going to into making that crop successful,” says Humphris. “So at that point it’s all about managing risk.

Growers feel safe when their canola is in the swath so it will take a bit of time for them to learn that their investment is protected with a pod shatter trait,” he adds. “We need to build confidence in the equipment, the techniques and the technology. But given the success we’ve had so far, we know that confidence will come.” FF

Strictly straight cutting in the east

While their western Canadian counterparts are learning the ropes when it comes to straight cutting canola, it’s old hat to Ontario growers. Canola in Ontario is seeded on relatively few acres, but it’s entirely straight cut. Why? It’s all about the equipment.

“Very few growers here even own a swather,” says Kate Hyatt, marketing communications specialist with Bayer CropScience Canada. “It’s a specialized piece of equipment that often doesn’t have a place on farms here. Growers have hay harvesting equipment and their combine. That’s generally all they need.”

Ontario crop producers traditionally work with two combine headers. One is for corn and the other is used for soy, oats, wheat and canola. The longer growing season allows them to wait longer to reduce the amount of green seed.

Hyatt says canola growers in Ontario aim for 100 per cent colour change and less than 10 per cent moisture before harvesting. They don’t face the same risk of early frost as do their western counterparts, giving them more time to harvest. But they still face risks associated with weather events.

“Canola growers here are still very interested in pod shatter traits as they face the same risk of loss due to shatter, particularly if the fall is wet or windy,” says Hyatt. “They also want to reduce the incidence of volunteers in subsequent years, as volunteer canola can be a problem in some crops. When canola is straight cut, pod shatter technology helps keep seed off the ground and in the bin.”