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Harvest occurs when the crop is mature. This is measured by many different factors, such as the weather, or, depending on the crop, it may be its colour. A farmer may also do a moisture test, by pinching or creasing the crop to tell if it is ready for harvest. Knowing when to harvest a crop is a science in itself.

Harvesting is usually a two-stage process. First the farmer swaths and then he or she combines. Sometimes, though, swathing and combining are done in one operation by straight combining, depending on the crop and the weather. Once the farmer knows when to harvest, he or she must make a decision about how the crop will be harvested.

Harvest in western Canada takes place in the fall when temperatures are cooler, and the days are shorter. There is usually a rush to get the crop under cover and swathing offers the opportunity to speed up harvest. It is in a large part because of this that swathing has been widely adopted by cereal growers.