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Survival of the fittest

Can you get more bang for your buck by planting your canola?

The jury is still out on using row crop seeders to sow canola, despite a growing number of Manitoba producers who have the equipment in their sheds.

The implements’ precision seed placement, and the associated promise of lower seeding rates without compromising on yield, has bolstered interest from growers who may have already invested in a vacumeter row crop planter for crops like soybeans and corn.

Machinery companies like Horsch claim that their planters can help cut seeding rate 30 to 50 per cent, attendees of this year’s Ag in Motion farm show heard during air seeder and planter demonstrations.

Why it matters: Row planters promise to give farmers more wiggle room on seeding rates but research results on the economic benefit of those implements in canola is still up in the air.

That promise could translate into a big difference to the farmer’s bottom line, given seed price. An acre of canola will cost the farmer about $62.50 in seed and seed treatment, according to the province’s 2019 cost of production estimates.

Outside of seed cost, manufacturers also argue that the machines might promote more uniform crops, something that could take the guesswork out of input application timing.

The planter’s narrower furrow might explain some of its emergence benefit given the dry year, trial managers at the GFM Discovery Farm outside Saskatoon say. The farm hosted a trial comparing the two types of seeding this year.
photo: Alexis Stockford

What the research says

The Canola Council of Canada says an ideal density sits anywhere between four and either seven or eight plants per square foot before farmers get caught by the law of diminishing returns, while seed survival hovers around 60 per cent.

Planter manufacturers, however, argue that they can drastically raise that survival rate.

Manitoba Agriculture is exploring that potential at three sites, Portage la Prairie, St. Adolphe and Holland.

“Anecdotal evidence from farmers says that they are right on par if not better,” provincial oilseeds specialist Dane Froese said. “Our early research from last year indicates that might not be the case, so we really want to tease some of that information out.”

An analysis from the St. Adolph site did not note huge economic benefit from using a planter.

Froese’s team compared plots seeded by a vacumeter planter at three, 3.6 and 4.2 pounds per acre with a standard air seeder at 4.2, five and 5.6 pounds an acre. The planter spaced rows at 15 to 22 inches, compared to the nine-inch airseeder rows, numbers drawn from past studies in Saskatchewan. Researchers expected the planter to yield 85 per cent seed survivability, compared to 65 per cent with the air seeder.

More planted seedlings made it to maturity, compared to air seeded plots. Trials found little difference between initial plant

stands and adult counts a month later for planters, while all three air seeded plots saw drops of 100,000 plants per acre or more.

Fifteen inch rows, planted at 3.6 pounds an acre, yielded two bushels an acre less than air seeded strips at both 4.2 and five pounds an acre. But both other planted seeding rates yielded significantly less than drilled strips (35-36 bu. acre, compared to 45 bu. acre at both drilled seeding rates).

In an economic analysis though, even that 3.6 lb. acre planted rate fell short of the margin from air seeded strips.

Producer experience

Manitoba producers who have already invested in row planters, however, might argue otherwise.

Brendan Phillips, who farms near Souris, says his planter has allowed him to drop canola seeding rates from three and three- quarters pounds per acre to two and a quarter to two and a half.

“We don’t seem to lose any seeds with the planter, so in terms of our planters per square foot, we’re on par with where we are with our seeder,” he said.

Phillips has started using the planter in canola, as well as corn, soybeans and dry beans.

Trials out of the GlacierFarmMedia Discovery Farm in Langham, Sask., did show better emergence in planted versus drilled plots. The weather many have contributed to that, however, manager and Ag in Motion research chair Blake Weiseth said.

Weiseth’s team tested both implements with low and high seeding rates — 190,000 versus 220,000 seeds per acre for the planter, 220,000 versus 435,000 seeds per acre for the air seeder.

Planted plots had higher plant counts at the 220,000 pounds per acre rate. About three plants per square foot emerged in planted plots, compared to two plants per square foot in air seeded plots.

“I think the results we saw were more a function of the type of opener on the piece of seeding equipment rather than the technology behind it, per se,” Weiseth said. “In this case, the planter had a much narrower furrow opening compared to the air drill.”

Reduced soil disturbance may have given planted plots an advantage given the dry spring, Weiseth said.

The difference largely disappeared when growth promotion products were added to the mix. The Discovery Farm also tested canola plots with Atlas XC, a product used with dry fertilizer to increase nutrient uptake. There was no difference between planted and drilled plots at the 220,000 pound per acre rate when plots were treated with Atlas XC, researchers found.

Best practices

Froese urged farmers to watch their settings if they’re bringing a planter into the canola field. Seed depth must be consistent, he said, and farmers should make sure that the downward and vacuum pressure is set correctly and there is a good vacuum seal on the seed plate.

“Where you might be planning on saving two, two and a half pounds (per acre) of seed, if that vacuum seal isn’t tight, you might be leaking that two and a half pounds of seed right on the surface of the ground,” he said.

Planters should be calibrated for between two and five inches of mercury on the vacuum meter, since the smaller canola seeds will need less pressure, he noted.

Farmers may also want to consider their typical seeding schedule. The planter may force producer into multiple passes, compared to a one-pass air seeder system, Weiseth said.

The Discovery Farm broadcast fertilizer, followed by a light harrow and only light starter fertilizer at planting.

Phillips has also noted the fertilization challenge. He is also doing a separate fertilizer pass.

“If we continue to increase acres of canola on our planter, we’ll have to come up with a fertilizer solution to get some more pounds down with the planter as well as top dressing later in the season,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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