To swath or not to swath?

A report that compares the costs and benefits of straight-cutting canola versus swathing may answer some lingering questions about the best way to harvest it.

But it doesn’t offer a definitive recommendation on how canola should be taken off.

It says there are significant gains and costs associated with both straight-cutting and swathing.

“Straight cut treatments with harvest aids (Reglone or Heat and glyphosate) had a higher cost of production, but the benefits of timeliness or ease of harvest may provide sufficient benefit to warrant this cost for certain operations,” the report states.

“Similarly, situations where control of timing is less of a concern, swathing or natural ripening harvest may prove to be the most economical.”

The canola harvesting study was conducted by the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI).

It compared the costs and benefits of harvesting canola using four different harvest strategies:

  • applying Reglone, then straight cutting
  • applying Heat and glyphosate, then straight cutting
  • allowing the standing crop to ripen naturally, then straight cutting
  • swathing the crop, then combining the windrows

According to the report, canola fields that were treated with pre-harvest products, such as Reglone, or Heat and glyphosate before straight-cutting were generally easier to combine and were combined more quickly, more efficiently and with fewer in-field delays.

However, harvest losses caused by pod shattering were usually higher and overall harvest costs were anywhere from $17 to $22 per acre higher based on chemical costs, application costs and increased fuel consumption.

On the other hand, harvest costs and yield losses associated with swathed canola were generally lower, but ground speeds for combines were slower, delays caused by combine plug-ups were more common and stress levels for combine operators were generally higher.

The report, entitled Straight Cutting Canola in Manitoba: Comparison of Pre-Harvest Aids, can be viewed online at bit.ly/2v2Nljg.

“The purpose of this project was to understand what benefits may be gained from straight cutting, what risks may be incurred, and what pre-harvest treatments may provide optimal conditions for straight cut harvest,” the report stated.

The project included several notable findings:

  • An assessment of harvest losses, which ranged from 1.1 bushels per acre in swathed canola, up to 1.5 bu. per acre in standing canola allowed to ripen naturally, 1.9 bu. per acre in standing canola treated with Reglone and 2.8 bu. per acre in standing canola treated with Heat and glyphosate.
  • An assessment of harvest and chemical costs, which ranged from $28.50 per acre in standing canola allowed to ripen naturally, up to $33.37 per acre in swathed canola, $50.54 per acre in standing fields treated with Reglone and $55.20 in fields treated with Heat and glyphosate.
  • An assessment of greenseed levels, which ranged from a low of .4 percent greenseed in swathed canola and canola treated with Heat and glypho­sate, up to .6 percent in canola treated with Reglone and .9 percent in standing canola allowed to ripen naturally.
  • An assessment of overall combine fuel consumption, which ranged from 64.7 litres per hour in swathed canola fields, up to 75.2 litres per hour in standing, naturally ripened canola, 79.3 litres per hour in straight-cut fields treated with Heat and glyphosate, and 82.6 litres per hour in fields treated Reglone.

The study also found that combine engine loads were generally 15 to 25 percent higher in fields that were straight cut compared to fields that were swathed prior to harvest.

Combine ground speeds were .5 to .6 m.p.h. faster in fields that were straight cut versus fields that had been swathed, and delays caused by plugging were significantly lower.

The report suggests that harvest efficiency and the amount of time that is required to harvest canola could be more important factors than per acre harvest costs or yield losses, especially if canola crops are late coming off or the anticipated harvest window is tight.

“Results from this project show that there are significant gains to be had if different harvest methods are employed,” the report’s summary stated.

“Straight cut treatments with harvest aids had a higher cost of production, but the benefits of timeliness, or ease of harvest may provide sufficient benefit to warrant this cost for certain operations.

“Similarly, situations where control of timing is less of a concern, swathing or natural ripening harvest may prove to be the most economical.”

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