When Seeding Canola, The Tortoise Beats The Hare

– DERWYN HAMMOND

“It’s about slowing down enough to ensure you’re getting good placement.”

They say time is money. Which means slowing down while seeding crops should cost more in fuel and labour.

Not necessarily, says Derwyn Hammond, a Canola Council of Canada agronomist.

Seeding canola at a slower speed can actually save money, Hammond told a seminar at Manitoba Ag Days last month.

Hammond used a mathematical formula to demonstrate.

Take a 40-foot seeder, a 1,000-acre field and an average tractor speed of six miles per hour. Slowing down from six m. p. h. to five m. p. h. results in an extra seeding time of seven hours.

More time spent on the field, more fuel burned, more money up the spout, right? But just wait a bit.

The issue isn’t so much speed as it is stand uniformity. A uniform stand depends on seed distribution. Speed affects distribution, which in turn affects yield, Hammond said.

He referred to research by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Swift Current. It showed that reducing the number of canola plants from eight per square foot to four does not significantly reduce seed yield.

That’s because canola plants can compensate for lower plant populations by putting out additional branches with more flowers because they have space in which to spread.

Reducing the number of plants per square foot by half only lowers seed yield by an average 20 per cent, according to AAFC.

MORE MATH

Now take an average canola yield of 35 bushels an acre and an average price of $9 a bushel. (It may be less than that now; Hammond based his calculations on last year’s prices.)

If slowing down by one mile an hour can avoid a 20 per cent yield loss resulting from a lower plant population, a producer can save $63 an acre (35 bu/ac. x $9/ bu. x 20 per cent).

And if slowing down saves that 20 per cent yield loss on just five per cent of those 1,000 acres, it’ll pay back $450 per hour for taking the extra time (1,000 acres x five per cent x $63/acre divided by seven hours).

Hammond said speed can influence the uniformity of a stand because bouncing equipment compromises precise seed placement, which is what canola, a shallow-seeded crop, requires.

“It’s about slowing down enough to ensure you’re getting good placement,” he said.

Hammond acknowledged it’s hard to give a precise speed for seeding. It varies with the field and equipment used.

He recommended producers do plant counts three weeks after canola crops emerge. If the number of plants per square foot is reasonably uniform, there’s no problem. But if emergence is patchy, Hammond suggests doing some digging.

“If there’s significant patches in a field and when you dig down you find some seeds are coming from much deeper than you planned on, then slowing down might be one of the things you can adjust in your seeding.”

And if producers say they can’t afford to slow down, Hammond points to his formula to suggest maybe they can after all.

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