No Swather? No Problem: Straight-Cutting Canola Gains Popularity

Posted: 10/30/2018

By Rob Rynning

In the last five years or so, the way canola is harvested has shifted dramatically. Canola has traditionally been cut with a swather and placed in a windrow to cure and dry down the seed.  But today, with pod shatter-resistant varieties and overall varietal improvement in shatter tolerance, straight-cutting canola is more popular than ever.

There are many advantages to straight-harvesting; the most obvious is that you do not need to own or use a swather. Swathers are expensive and require additional personnel and time to operate—so skipping this step saves farmers time and money. The new shatter-resistant varieties seem to work extremely well, allowing the crop to stand out in the field, mature and dry down to harvest moisture – all with very little chance of shattering. When a farmer swaths, he needs to have windrows sit in the field for about nine to 14 days before harvesting. 

With straight-harvesting, many farmers will use a desiccant -- the only approved product being Diquat -- to dry the crop down even faster. The desiccant is to be sprayed at 60 to 75 percent seed color change or about the same stage you would begin swathing. This will usually bring the canola to appropriate harvest moisture within seven days, which is Diquat’s preharvest interval.  

This form of harvesting isn’t immune to criticism. Even the new pod shatter-resistant varieties can be lost due to wind damage. In my farm’s experience, it takes both winds in the 40 to 50 mph range and dry plants to have significant damage. Rain can help reduce it. Winds of that scale can also be a major problem for swathed canola, blowing, scattering and shelling the plants in the windrow. When a desiccant is not used for direct harvesting, there can also be issues with green stalks on the otherwise mature canola plants. These stalks can cause difficult and slower harvesting if it is cool and wet. 

Swathing and direct harvesting can both be slowed by lodged or downed canola, though today’s varieties are worlds above those of 10 or 20 years ago. In the last three years, my farm has direct harvested and only this past year was slowed by this problem. To combat it, I ordered a new combine header with a special top or pea auger. 

The option farmers now have to direct harvest their canola and not use a swather helps make canola a more attractive crop for many to grow. Farmers that have swathers can still hedge their bets and windrow a portion of their crop, or use them under specific favorable conditions,  but now there is no drawback to not owing one. Research has shown no appreciable difference in harvest loss between direct and windrowed canola, leaving straight-combining a very good choice for many producers.

Rob Rynning is president of the U.S. Canola Association and a canola grower based in Kennedy, Minn.

What Is Canola?
Become A Member