Getting the Most Out of Your Canola Crop: Three Reasons Why Pre-Harvest Aids and Straight Cutting Make Sense

Norm Flore Agronomist, Nutrien Ag Solutions

More articles by Norm Flore

Swathing was long considered the go-to method for ensuring crop uniformity when it came time to combine, but today more farmers are opting to use chemical control and then straight cutting their canola fields. Here are three reasons why I recommend this approach to farmers.

Reducing Risk

Some growers choose to naturally dry down their canola crop, but in high moisture situations they’re usually the last ones harvesting. I’ve heard stories of farmers trying to combine in November, and in Western Canada, that’s never a good thing.

Having winter close in on you before your crop is off the field is always the danger if you’re not utilizing a desiccant or harvest management aid like glyphosate to speed things along. I find glyphosate works well for non-Roundup Ready® systems like Clearfield® or LibertyLink®, while contact herbicides such as Heat® and Reglone® Ion are probably the best option for Roundup Ready® canola.

Reducing Costs

Not having to rely on a swather for pre-harvest management can simplify things considerably. When spraying replaces swathing, it’s a much faster operation —and one less piece of farm equipment growers need to purchase and maintain.

One farmer I know grows both canola and malt barley. He sold his swather many years ago, so I was curious how he got his malt barley to dry down since chemical harvest aids aren’t permitted on that crop. He told me with the money he saved by not having a swather, he was able to buy a new grain drying system that allows him to harvest malt barley with a higher moisture content.

Maximizing Yield

Farmers are constantly looking for ways to boost their yields. Straight cutting canola fields allows the crop to mature a little longer —usually resulting in more seed or larger seed sizes that can provide that extra bit of yield.

New canola hybrids with pod shatter reduction traits are making straight cutting an even more appealing practice. These hybrids are not only more resistant to shattering during harvest, they can also handle a lot more abuse from the weather before shattering occurs. This can provide growers who choose not to go the swath and combine route with more comfort in leaving their canola crop to stand longer in the field.

Know Your Enemy: The Key to Fighting Cereal Leaf Diseases

Jordan Peterson Manager of Agronomic Services in Northern Alberta, Nutrien Ag Solutions

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Knowing how to identify cereal leaf diseases in your wheat and barley fields is a critical aspect of crop management. If it’s not done correctly and the right fungicides aren’t applied at the right time, crop losses could be as high as 25 per cent under heavy disease pressure.

That is because diseases, such as tan spot, septoria and stripe rust in wheat and net form or spot blotch and scald in barley, can spread rapidly in your fields if conditions are right. A spell of hot, wet, humid weather could mean the difference between a successful crop and a disappointing harvest.

Depending on your crop rotation, you may not see any signs of disease much before your regular spray timing, but it doesn’t hurt to start looking right from the start. Cereal leaf diseases often overwinter on stubble and will move upwards on infected plants, so it’s possible to observe the presence of disease as early as your first emergence check.

Tan spot disease in wheat is indicated by tan to brown spots, which fade into a yellow ring along the edges of the lesion. Septoria will present as yellow to brown spots with black dots in the middle, and the rust diseases can be identified by their orange pustules.

In barley, light brown spots that form a net-like pattern on leaves indicate net form blotch, while scald forms pale lesions on leaves that are usually tan in colour with brown margins.

A lot of growers are very good at detecting disease in their crops, but they may need some assistance to zero in on exactly which one they’re looking at. Consulting an agronomist or crop consultant can be a big help.

Once a disease is identified, it’s important to monitor its development and keep a close eye on the kind of weather you can expect to see in the foreseeable future. Scouting weekly (even twice a week when it’s close to flag leaf timing) is a good idea, and you want to make sure you’re covering as much of the field as you can.

When it comes to disease control, protecting the flag leaf and penultimate leaf of your wheat or barley plants is the most important, because that’s where 60 to 80 per cent of the grain fill comes from.

For wheat, spraying foliar fungicides at the four- or five-leaf stage will help suppress some of the early-season disease, but it won’t do anything for leaves emerging after that. That’s why it’s essential to time your applications correctly so the top two leaves are thoroughly coated with a protective fungicide.

It’s particularly important to scout your fields thoroughly for leaf diseases when wheat plants are at the five-leaf stage. Once your crop hits the flag-leaf stage and you know there’s disease present, try to time your fungicide application within a two-week window after the first flag leaves start to emerge.

Cereal leaf diseases can take a heavy toll on your wheat and barley crops — and your bottom line. Early detection, identifying the right disease, monitoring disease development and timely fungicide applications will all help to reduce the effects of disease on your crops and provide them with the best chance of success.