If you don’t already have crops being harvested, you’re likely keeping a close eye on your fields to decide when to start. Just like any other crop, timing of when you start harvesting your canola can have big impacts on yield and quality, here are a few things to keep in mind as you watch your crops progress this fall.
The first decision to make is whether you will be harvesting or swathing a crop. This is largely influenced by hybrid– if you have seeded canola with pod shatter protection, such as a Pod DefendR hybrid, you may be able to leave these fields out to straight cut.
Some other things to consider before taking the combine straight to the field – whether or not the field is well knit together, crop uniformity, pod integrity and frost risk. Field conditions throughout the year can affect all these things, and a field you planned to straight cut in the spring might now be better to swath to avoid large yield losses from unfavourable conditions.
For crops that are facing the risk of frost this fall, it’s important to remember that swathed canola only reduces yield losses from a frost if it has had time to drop below 20% moisture. Disease pressure throughout the year can also have big impacts on your harvest decisions, while disease may have weakened the integrity of the pods, Sclerotinia can run rampant in a swath under the right conditions, causing more damage.
If you are heading out to swath your canola, you will want to do so at 60% seed colour change (SCC). Determining proper SCC before swathing helps to reduce yield losses and green seed counts. Achieving at least 60% SCC prior to swathing is an under-utilized practice in western Canada.
SCC is determined by opening pods on the main stem of the canola plant. Starting at the bottom and working up, open the pods to see if there is any colour change on the seeds (even a small spot on one seed counts!). Once you get to the pods that no longer have any colour change, evaluate how much of the plant does have some change in it from 0% – none of the pods having colour change to 100% – all of the pods having colour change. 60% SCC means that 60% of the way up the main stem should have pods with some SCC to them. Seeds at the top of the stem at this point should be firm, being able to be rolled in your fingers without being squished.
You will want to scout more than just one area, and not just the roadside to determine SCC for a field, and come back every couple of days to keep an eye on the progression of the field. If bulk of the pods (yield) are on the side branches and not on the mainstem, alter your assessments to look at those branches.
If you’ve chosen to straight cut your canola, you’ll be leaving it to mature standing but deciding when to harvest your canola is the same timing no matter which method you’ve chosen to go with. You are looking for no more than 10% moisture, when the pods are dry and you can hear the seeds rattling around inside of them.
Overall, whichever method you are choosing to take in your canola crop this year, scouting is key. Knowing your field conditions helps to make an informed decision on whether or not to swath and correct timing for harvest. The end goal is to minimize losses from pods shattering onto the ground through the wrong harvest choice or being too ripe and to reduce green seed numbers by making sure the crop has been given enough time to ripen.