Canola School: Harvesting Snow-Bound and Frozen Canola


It might only be the middle of October, but it looks and feels like winter in parts of Western Canada, especially as you move north and west in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Snow and freezing rain have left many canola growers with a helpless feeling as crop that was ready to be harvested is now under a blanket of white powder and/or encased in ice.

Fortunately, it is only the middle of October and there’s a chance we could see the return of warmer weather to melt the snow and dry things up.

“We have to hope and assume we will see a return to more seasonal-like weather,” says Angela Brackenreed, harvest specialist on the Canola Council of Canada’s agronomy team, in this episode of Canola School. “In a lot of areas we need the fields to dry out, because practically that’s the biggest hindrance right now, actually being able to cross the field.”

Where and when it is possible to drive, she suggests canola that’s still standing should probably be a priority, since it could be vulnerable to higher losses than canola in swaths if left in the field over winter. She also recommends steering clear of swathing canola that’s still standing due to the high shatter risk and challenges with anchoring the swath.

If we don’t see a return to more seasonable weather, harvesting in the snow has been done before, but Brackenreed notes it requires cold temperatures for two main reasons:

  • Early snowfall will insulate the soft ground, so the mercury has to drop far enough to firm it up for field traffic.
  • The heat of the combine will melt the snow, resulting in a slushy mess, frozen sieves and major headaches, unless temperatures are low enough. Producers who have experience combining in snow have anecdotally said the thermometer should read minus 12 to 15 degrees Celsius or colder (which can complicate harvest operations in other ways.) “We want that snow to just blow out the back of the combine with the chaff and straw. It needs to be sufficiently cold for that to happen.”

Ice covered tractorYields losses due to shattering will probably be an unfortunate reality, she says, but from a quality perspective, the snow and ice won’t have much impact in the short term. However, if left until spring, a build-up of free fatty acids can degrade the oil content and result in downgrading at the elevator.

The Frozen Harvest — Images of Alberta’s Ice Storm

Check out the video above for more on harvesting canola that’s been snowed or rained on, and watch for a follow-up on managing this high moisture crop in storage.

Click here for more in the Canola School.

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