skip to main content

Top 4 tips to control losses when straight cutting

Read Time: 5 minutes

By Dave Creek August 03, 2023

Protect yield and quality at harvest

Have you felt like this growing season has been extremely variable? You’re not alone. Whether it’s drought conditions causing uneven plant stands, or insects and storms setting parts of the crop back, the result is a canola crop with incredible variability in maturity across your fields. If you’re straight cutting canola, your biggest challenge is getting harvest timing right.

Should you straight cut at all?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making your final decision on whether to straight cut:

  • Is the canola heavily lodged?
    Heavily lodged canola will take a longer time to dry down, extending your harvest timeline. Swathing will help speed up the process. Alternatively, if your lodged fields are short, heavily branched, and have a low plant count, they may not be able to hold a swath, which would make straight cutting the better option.
  • Are you growing pod shatter-resistant varieties?
    If you don’t have pod shatter-resistant canola, you could be at higher risk for harvest losses if you choose to straight cut. Weather conditions, inability to apply dry-down product, and uneven maturity can make these fields a high risk for yield loss during straight cutting.
  • What type of equipment do you have?
    Your equipment could be the deciding factor. Straight cutting will only be an option if you have access to the right combine headers.

Tips for success when choosing to straight cut

If you’ve made the decision to straight cut after carefully considering the questions above, take these four actions to prevent harvest losses and bring in a successful crop:

  1. Choose the right fields.
    Choose fields with even maturity, low weed populations, and low disease pressure. Doing this will allow for an even dry down, easier harvest, and safe storage.
  2. Keep an eye on the forecast.
    If your crop gets hit by frost – which is more common than we’d like once fall hits – your risk of green seed could increase. This could cause a major downgrade in harvested canola and risk heating in your bin. You’ll need to assess your canola the morning after a frost and again in the afternoon to make sure harvesting won’t lock in the green.

    When assessing your canola, you are looking to see whether frost has damaged the pods and seeds. A heavy frost will cause small, shriveled seeds that increase pod shatter and drop from brittle pods. A moderate frost may cause white specking on stems and pods and wilting of the plant material. 
  3. Consider your seed traits.
    There is a big difference between a straight-cut variety and a variety with pod shatter traits. If a variety lacks any pod shatter traits, consider applying a harvest aid such as salfufenacil with glyphosate. These should be applied at 80% seed colour change. Note that the pre-harvest interval (PHI) is three days. This can help you take care of excess weed pressure and assist with crop unevenness. You could also consider diquat, which will actively speed up the dry-down process of your maturing crop. The best time to apply diquat is at 90% seed colour change since this is a contact herbicide with no PHI.
  4. Know your varieties.
    Some canola varieties will take less time to dry down than others. Keep an eye on your fields and observe the differences in maturity so you are prepared to harvest as soon as the field is ready. If you’re uncertain, it’s always best to take a sample pass and assess moisture and green seed count.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to leave your canola in the field longer than necessary, no matter how you choose to harvest it. Evaluate each field and make the decision that is best for your farm. If you’re unsure, reach out to your local Cargill rep for support.

Dave headshot

Dave Creek

Dave grew up on a farm east of Winnipeg before moving to Alberta in 2005. Dave's career in southern Alberta spans 16 years in sales and agronomy through various crops and special crops on irrigation and dryland. As a Market Development Agronomist, he looks forward to helping farmers with their agronomic needs. He enjoys working with farmers throughout the year planning and supporting them in crop management.