Getting the proper rate of seed in the ground at the proper depth with the proper distance from fertilizer is vital to southern Saskatchewan farmer Dallas Leduc.
It is all about getting the most number of seeds to germinate as close as possible to the same time, to produce a nice, full, even stand that hopefully, as weather co-operates, will mature and produce an optimum yield on his dry-land farm in Glentworth, Sask.
“Precision seeding or trying to be as precise as possible with seed placement is critical for us,” says Leduc, who along with family members crops about 9,000 acres of cereals, oilseeds and pulse crops.
“We are looking for that nice even germination that hopefully continues to produce an even stand with even maturity. We always use good-quality seed for all our crops and seed is expensive. With hybrid canola varieties, seed can cost $10 to $12 per acre so we don’t want to seed too heavy and perhaps waste seed, so we are aiming to have as many of those we do put in the ground to germinate and produce a healthy productive plant.” Research shows that typically only between 50-60 per cent of canola seeds planted actually germinate, so any management that can improve that average is a savings in seed costs.
Leduc has worked with a number of different seeding systems over the years. Most recently he’s favoured air-seeding systems with independent openers, which he finds are very accurate at placing seed at the proper depth. With canola, for example, equipment is set to place seed at one-half to three-quarters of an inch depth, and with a seed-metering system, he comes as close as possible to controlling the single placement of each seed to achieve optimum plant spacing in the seed row.
Depending on the variety, and working with his farm agrologist, he can produce an excellent canola stand, for example, with a three-and-a-half pound per acre seeding rate. Seed is placed at the proper depth, with proper spacing between seeds. He supplies a liquid phosphorus product in the seed row, while the rest of the fertilizer is placed about three-quarters of an inch to the side and below the seed row.
He follows a similar approach with cereals and pulse crops. He selects seed batches tested for a high germination rate, and based on a thousand kernel weight measure, his agrologist calculates a proper seeding rate for different crops.
“Seeding technology has improved significantly over the years,” says Leduc. “I am very happy with the system we are using today. We have the ability to control seed placement in each row and as well we have both zone and sectional control features on the drill so we can be as efficient with seed and fertilizer placement as possible.”
((subhead)) INTEGRATED APPROACH
Technology is making it possible for producers to be much for accurate and efficient with seeding and other inputs, says Harry Brook, a longtime crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
Being efficient with rate and placement of seed is key to the overall productivity of the crop and optimizing yield, says Brook.
“Producers need to be as efficient with their seed as possible, and at the same time target that optimum plant stand,” says Brook. “They really need to be thinking about an integrated management approach.”
Brook says farmers shouldn’t be targeting just a minimum, but an optimum seeding rate. Research has shown a higher seeding rate, with cereals, for example, produces a denser crop stand, which can effectively control wild oats. That translates into a more robust crop, reduced herbicide use, a crop making more efficient use of nutrients, even maturity and hopefully a high-yielding, high-quality crop at harvest – especially if it is being straight combined at harvest. The effect of how the crop is seeded continues right through to harvest.
Brook says the ideal plant count – plant density – for each crop will depend on climate and soil type. A seeding rate determined for the more productive Black Soil Zone will likely be different (higher) than one calculated for the Dark Brown or Brown Soil Zones.
“Producers will know the productivity of their soils and we always recommend they determine the seeding rate based on a calculation using a thousand kernel weight measure,” says Brook. “There is not only a wide difference in crops, but a wide variation in seed batches within a given crop.” Seeding rate calculators can be found on Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and other provincial government and extension services websites.
While seeding-system technology has become much more efficient in metering and placing seed, Brook says the whole seeding operation needs to be managed properly. “Your field travel speed at seeding can make a significant difference on seed survival and emergence,” says Brook. He points to research with canola, for example, which shows the ideal tractor operating speed for seeding is four-and-a-half miles per hour. “Farmers are aiming to shallow seed the crop in the top-half to three-quarter inch of soil,” he says. “But at faster travel speed, equipment will bounce and they’ll have some seeds on the surface and some may be two inches deep. So slowing down with equipment will help get seeds planted at the targeted depth.”
((subhead)) PRECISION IS THE FOCUS
While there has been significant development in seeding technology over the past 120 years, farmers and seeding technology are still on the same mission – get seed in the ground in the most efficient way possible, with an ultimate goal of optimizing yields.
With all the refinements in engineering and harnessing of new technology including computer-controlled monitors and meters, rate controllers, sectional shut offs and precision guidance systems, where is seeding technology at?
While over the past couple decades of seeding system R&D, there has been an emphasis on larger and faster machinery to cover more acres, the attention in more recent years is focused on precision. With many full-out systems covering 70, 80 or even 100 feet in one pass, it is not unreasonable for farmers to target 300 seeded acres per day, provided there are no major interruptions.
But as seed and other input costs rise, farmers are dealing with a challenge: If they can get the crop seeded and inputs applied on time, is everything where it should be to optimize plant stand, utilize inputs the best way possible and maximize their dollars?
Precision seeding is a complex objective farmers, agronomists, researchers and seeding-equipment engineers would all agree on. Today’s systems are good, but nothing on the market yet has hit perfection. The challenge is to consistently get the right number of seeds placed at the proper depth, with the proper spacing, within the proper distance to nutrients attempting to get the optimum number of seeds to germinate. All of this must be done on the timeline of “as soon as possible” once seeding season hits.
Getting an evenly spaced and emerged crop is important for the management of the crop over the entire growing season. An even stand is important for all in-crop treatments ranging from herbicide applications, top-up foliar nutrients, fungicide and insecticide treatments. Ultimately, its importance will be determined by harvest, where an evenly maturing stand is key, especially in a straight-cut system.
As the technology advances so does the fine-tuning during field operations to adjust equipment not only for crops and seed sizes, but also for variable rates of inputs in changing soils and moisture levels. Conditions change from field to field, which makes the challenge of managing all conditions a daunting task.
Seeding technology has taken giant steps forward from the first drills to gravity and air-seeding systems, then onto manual to computerized-control systems, to larger, faster, stronger equipment. Always building on the premise “where there is a will there is a way,” seeding technology is on the cusp of delivering true precision.