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Knowledge Is Key to Strong Canola Crop

Knowledge Is Key to Strong Canola Crop

30 June 2014

AUSTRALIA - “Haddon Rig” farming manager Justin McMillan is a firm believer of the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ after trialing a variety of different canola harvesting techniques, writes Michael Thomson, GRDC.

Throughout the past five years, Grain Orana Alliance (GOA) has conducted two separate trials on the 30,000-hectare mixed cropping and livestock operation, in Central NSW, testing firstly windrow-timing, and secondly windrowing versus direct-heading.

GOA CEO Maurie Street believes that having a clear understanding of the different options available, can positively benefit a grower’s bottom line.

“An economic benefit of over $200/Ha can be gained from choosing the best method and timing of canola harvesting,” he said.

As a result of the windrow timing trials, Mr McMillan has learnt that leaving a small window following the recommended 60% crop colour change is ideal.

“The results probably showed if you can get past that 60 per cent colour change stage, and then wait another few days, that proved to be the best time to windrow your canola crop,” he said.

Funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), GOA operates as a not-for-profit organisation, aiming to provide effective solutions to current and emerging issues challenging NSW grain producers.

After conducting a number of trials in various parts of central NSW, Mr Street has seen first-hand the potential yield benefits of being clever and patient with windrow timing.

“Yield increases up to 0.5t/ha have been seen over relatively short delays in windrowing of only eight days,” he Street said.

GOA also trialled direct-heading versus windrowing, which Mr McMillan said showed that there wasn’t a noticeable difference between these techniques in terms of the yield and oil content in the harvested crop.

However, the trials dispelled any misconceptions that grain growers might have about shattering or ‘shelling out’ of canola pods when direct-heading.

“Some people are worried about shattering when direct heading, but we didn’t find that there were any significant losses,” he said.

The only tangible issue with direct heading, according to Mr McMillan, was the potential for a clash in timing with the cereal harvest.

“There didn’t seem to be a great difference between either method, but the only downfall for direct-heading was that we had to wait longer,” he said.

“From memory it was about 10 days behind the windrowed crop, and we wouldn’t normally want to wait that long, as it would collide with our wheat and barley harvests.”

Now armed with a greater understanding of both methods, Mr McMillan has more ability to respond quickly to factors like seasonal conditions and canola crop size.

In heavier crops Mr McMillan would be more inclined to windrow to avoid clashing at harvest time, but having the option to direct-head in a drier season would save on operational expenses.

“You’ve just got to be flexible; I don’t think you could advise one way or another. Obviously, one year to the next is never the same. I think you’ve got to have that flexibility,” he said.

For Mr McMillan, making the switch to direct-heading was made significantly easier by an implement called the ‘top crop auger’.

This helpful addition sits on the header front and helps flick the plant along the draper belts and into the feeder box of the header.

“As it’s such a fibrous plant, without the ‘top crop auger’ canola will build up on the draper belts and force you to slow your ground speed right down, so the plant can feed through into the header,” Mr McMillan said.

“With the top crop auger, it allowed us to go at a good pace, at 12 kilometres an hour, even in the heavier crops.”

Mr McMillan believes the flexibility he now has at harvest time wouldn’t be possible without the help of research based agronomy groups like GOA.


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