Harvest Management in Multi-Stage Canola Fields

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It has been a challenging crop season for many canola growers in western Canada.  Between early season frost leading to replanting, insects and drought, there are a lot of patchy, multi-staged fields with a lower than normal yield potential.  In order to capture as much yield and high quality canola as possible this season, the DEKALB agronomy team has some factors to consider when looking at your harvest options.

The Decision to Swath

Both straight cutting and swathing are harvest methods supported by the DEKALB brand; however DEKALB agronomists caution growers to keep their expectations in check in a year such as this.  A poor experience with straight cutting due to multi-stage fields will likely have more to do with a poor cropping season than the harvest method. 

Though it can be tempting to give multi-stage fields the opportunity to further mature by shifting to straight cutting, a full switch to straight cutting if this isn't a normal practice on your farm likely isn't the best approach due to the learnings that generally come when straight cutting for the first time.  The DEKALB agronomy team has suggestions on how to optimize success with swathing in a year with multi-stage canola crops:

·         If you have fields with uniform stands with the majority of yield coming from the main stem, wait for the normal, minimum 60% seed colour change (SCC) on the main stem before swathing.

·         If you have multi-stage canola crops or thinner stands with greater than normal yield coming from side branches, you may need to time your swathing based on SCC on the side branches rather than the main stem. This also applies if a lot of flower blasting occurred on the main stem since more yield will be coming from side branches than the main stem. In these situations, you may forfeit some of the yield from the main stem but you will capture more of the yield and optimize quality coming from the side branches.

·         Look at multiple locations throughout the field

·         Get in the field and look at seeds, do not stage based on pod colour change

·         Avoid swathing in the hottest, driest part of the day to minimize shatter.

The Decision to Straight Cut

The practice of straight cutting is gradually becoming more common across western Canada. Like many seed companies, the DEKALB® brand has some great hybrid options for growers who choose this harvest method. 

Typically, a great field for straight cutting is one with a heavy, well-knit stand where any falling pods can be caught in the plants and still make it into the combine header.  A thinner stand can also workout okay if falling pods land directly on the header.

If a grower if comfortable with straight cutting it can be very advantageous in a year like this; not only does straight cutting allow for one less pass across the field, it also allows later staged plants in the field to mature and drydown without worry that the earlier staged plants will be too dry for swathing.  Canola should be approaching 100% seed colour change and be below 10% seed moisture when straight cutting.

Importance of Harvest Staging

As with any year, harvest staging is of utmost importance to get the best quality and highest yield possible out of your crop.  Because some fields have better stands than others it is important to evaluate each on a case-by-case basis.  In fields with thinner stands the plants will have more side branches which means a lot of yield will come from the branches and a heavy emphasis must be placed on branches when staging.  In fields with adequate-to-heavy stands there will be less room for the plants to branch out very much and more focus can be put on the main stem when staging.

When staging make sure you check the seed colour and not the pod colour.  It has been very hot and dry this year and some pods could be sun scalded, making them appear more mature than the crop may actually be.

Syngenta’s herbicide Reglone® is an on-label desiccant option for many crops, including canola.  The label for BASF’s herbicide Heat® LQ herbicide states that it can also be used as a harvest aid/desiccant.  Growers may consider this option in a multi-stage field if the majority of the field is ready to harvest and some is further behind.  Consult the labels for these products for full recommendations.

As always, your local DEKALB Agronomist is your trusted advisor for questions regarding agronomy or DEKALB brand canola hybrids.


Sources: https://agro.basf.ca/basf/agprocan/agsolutions/ASMain.nsf/ProductGuide2015.pdf; http://www.syngenta.com/global/corporate/en/products-and-innovation/product-brands/crop-protection/herbicides/Pages/reglone.aspx