The oilseed rape harvest is approaching here on the farm. Normally the crop is ‘swathed’. This is where a machine cuts the crop and lays it back down on the ground in rows with the seed pods intact. The rape is swathed approximately 2 weeks before the combine harvester comes along and picks up the swath and then separates the oilseeds from the pods and straw.
The problem we have encountered this year is related to the wet ground conditions caused by the heavy rains in the latter part of June. It is so waterlogged in the fields that the rape swathers (which look like mini combine harvesters) cannot travel on the fields without getting bogged down in the muddy soil. Another problem with swathing in these conditions is that in places there is water standing in pools on the soil surface which would rot/decompose the rape as it lies in the swath. As a result many farmers are adopting a different approach to the oilseed rape harvest this year. Instead of swathing, the rape crops are been dessicated with a chemical to kill the plant and help create an even ripening of the seeds. The crop will then be harvested by direct cutting with a combine harvester. The rape crop develops into a tangled mass of plant material which can cause problems with the combine and so it is necessary to fit side knives to the front of the machine. These knives are mounted vertically to cut through the tangled plant stems as the combine works its way forward along the field. Demand for side knives has been high and it is now nearly impossible to buy one as all the stockists have sold out.
On our farm we have a 3 foot side knife that we use for harvesting beans, but we have doubted weather or not it will cope with the tall rape crop. After telephoning several machinery supply companies (who had all sold out of new knives) we eventually found a second hand knife which is in need of some repair but importantly it is 4′ long and so it is currently been sent by a parcel company from a farmer in Kent.
Direct cutting the rape will be a new experience for us here so we keep our fingers crossed that the machinery will be able to perform the task without too many seed losses.