Tips to time swathing

Swathing is about to become general in Manitoba and proper timing is tricky in parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta because of variable staging. The following are some tips to help determine optimal time to swath: 

  • Hail damage causing crops to mature unevenly. When swathing a hailed crop, assess the seed-colour change at the highest-producing parts or stages within the field. Consider the yield potential of the earliest stage, especially if the delayed maturity creates a high risk for fall frost damage. Click here for more information on how to handle variable staged crops.
  • Scout fields individually and often. Scout swath timing by breaking open pods and assessing the level of seed colour change. Scouting based on field colour change is not a good indication of seed maturity. Maturity can change quickly and it may help to open up the field with a swath cut around the perimeter to grasp where the field is at. Scout fields individually since varieties may respond differently and different plant populations will influence the amount of branching. Click here to watch a video about assessing crops for swathing time with Canola Council agronomist Jim Bessel.
  • When to swath. The best timing for yield and quality is to cut when 50% to 60% of seeds on the main stem are turning from green to brown. Click here to view a copy of the Canola Council of Canada’s Canola Swathing Guide.
  • If need to swath earlier. Fields that have extremely late stages may benefit from being cut earlier (e.g. 20 to 30% seed colour change) to prevent green seed issues later on. Remember that these fields will take longer for the swath to dry down. If possible it is better to leave the crop ripen longer and swath at night to reduce shattering losses.
  • Avoid swathing in mid-day heat. Swathing during the heat of the day may result in green seed issues because the enzyme that breaks down chlorophyll can be interrupted under high temperature conditions. Be prepared to swath in the evening, overnight, and early morning if high daytime temperatures occur. For more information, click here for a pod cast on time of swathing with Canola Council agronomist Dan Orchard.
  • Lay swaths parallel to the direction of prevailing winds. This reduces the risk of swaths blowing and pods shattering.
  • Careful how the swath roller is adjusted.  Swathing widths have increased in recent years to 30 feet and beyond. A heavy crop cut at thirty feet or more needs only gentle downward pressure on the middle of the swath to be anchored properly. Air movement within the swath is important during dry down. The swath roller should be adjusted to tuck swath edges into the stubble.
  • Large dense swaths take longer to condition. Large swaths (wide swath width with heavy crop canopy) with a large volume of material take longer to cure than smaller, narrower swaths. Thin swaths lying close to the ground may also take longer.

If you are in the Fairview area, click here to learn about a time of swathing crop walk with Canola Council agronomist Greg Sekulic.