As harvest equipment rolls across the west this month, it will be moving into fields where some plants are ready for cutting and others are not even close. Sometimes pods on the same plant will have wildly varying maturities. Because canola crops are so stagey, determining when to swath and when to wait is keeping more than a few farmers up at night.
So I will get right to the point:
DO NOT RELY ON POD COLOUR. Purpling can be a result of sun exposure rather than an indicator of ripeness.
- Get out of the truck and open up some pods. Before you swath, seeds from pods on the main stem must be changing colour, and seeds from pods on side branches must at least be firm and not mushy.
You’re trying to find the sweet spot for timing where you can maximize maturity without waiting so long you’ll be at risk of frost.
You will recall that we got to this point after a dry early spring that was followed by lots of insect pressure. This made for thinner plant stands, which received lots of rain from July on. This made the plants that survived grow big and bushy. Normally, thicker plant stands prevent extra branching on canola plants. That’s where the ideal plant density of 5-10 plants per square foot is important.
Now it’s getting quite late in the season, and cooler, wetter conditions mean plants are still growing. There has been no major frost yet, but a lot of canola growers are getting antsy! I’m seeing pics online of farmers swathing bright green canola, and it’s keeping me up at night.
Here’s why: If you cut canola too early you’re taking a big yield hit. If you swath at 60% seed colour change you’re getting 8-10% more yield than if you swath at 30% seed colour change (Source: Canola Council of Canada).
The biggest risk of swathing too early is loss of yield, followed by loss of quality. Either way, it comes down to leaving dollars in the field.
If you have questions about assessing the maturity of your canola crop, contact your local Cargill rep. We can help stage this year’s crop and plan to get next year’s off to a great start.