The first passes of canola harvest 2016 have already begun. Canola has begun to be swathed for a majority of the state. While progress has been made, overall swathed intensions have been slowed due to the wet conditions. The weekend of May 21st and 22nd are lining up to allow producers to get into fields, that have not received abundant rain, to proceed with swathing. The sunny and warm conditions predicted might allow producers to get a lot of acres that have begun to mature in windrows. If producers do not get swathing done this weekend or very early in the week, the window of swathing may be closing for many. While maturation has been slowed by recent cool weather, the warm weather that might help a lot of producers swath this weekend could result in quite a few acres reaching or surpassing critical swathing time during the rainy conditions predicted for the coming week. This will leave a lot of producers questioning whether to swath earlier than they intended to or chance waiting and potentially having to rely on direct harvesting.
As far as early swathing is concerned, growers need to wait on the main raceme to reach the 30% color change. If the crop is swathed prior to this point, there is a risk of many pods not fully maturing, which could result in high levels of shriveled seed and green seeds. While shriveled seeds can be problematic, any degree of green seeds in a load could result in heavy dockage at the delivery points resulting in low quality loads. If this is the current situation for growers, they should probably wait to see if the rainy conditions of the coming week are less severe than currently predicted and rely on later swathing or direct harvesting.
For producers that are past the 30% but not quite at 50-60% and intend to swath, now is probably the best time. Canola that is this mature will potentially over-ripen in the field if the predicted conditions are true. This over-ripened canola will only be able to be direct harvested and could be at risk to higher amounts of in-field shatter due to high winds or hail, if predicted. Swathing ahead of a rain has been thought to be a bad practice. In actuality, this can result in no difference or potentially slightly benefit the crop. The benefits of swathing right ahead of a rain occur when rapid drying may occur following.
Moving from swathing to direct harvest is a decision that can be made at any point in the coming days to weeks. The main focus for growers moving this direction needs to be keeping a close eye on the moisture of the crop. Canola should be cut when the crop reaches 8-10% moisture. Direct harvesting canola can still result in very competitive yields and should not be thought of as lowering yield potential.
Overall, all three situations may occur across the state over the next several days. It should be noted that swathing or direct harvest are both viable options for canola within the state and yield can be very comparable. However, growers should do what is best for their production systems. These are the last few decisions growers will have to make in field to ensure the good looking canola crop in the field makes it to the bin.