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Canola On 30-Inch Rows

Robert Ruwoldt of Glenvale Farms at Wimmera, Australia, has many of the same no-till experiences — the frustrations and experimentations — of his Canadian counterparts. In his talk at Direct Seeding Advantage in November 2008, he described his challenges in residue management, opener selection, weed control, and equipment modification. But out of those challenges, he has come up with a cropping system that will interest you.

Ruwoldt farms 7,000 acres of wheat, barley, canola, lentils, peas, chickpeas and fababeans. Average annual rainfall in his area is 400 mm per year (16 inches). His soil type is heavy clay.

Ruwoldt first started into direct seeding 25 years ago. “We’ve learned the hard way as there has been no one to learn from in my area,” he says. “Everyone is saying that there is no way you can do that [no-till], and they are still saying it, even after 25 years.”

Currently, the region where Ruwoldt farms is suffering a “terrible round of dry seasons.” His last really good rainfall year was 1996 with 458 mm. In 2008, he received 239 mm, about half the average.

Despite poor rainfall, though, Ruwoldt credits his zero-till system for producing very decent yields. He compares 2008 to 1992, a year with similar precipitation. In 1992, he didn’t harvest a crop. In 2008, he harvested five to seven tonnes per hectare of barley (93 to 130 bushels, based on a 46-pound bushel) on eight inches of rain. Six inches fell in growing season. The difference between 2008 and 1992 is his farming system. “The zero-till system we have set up helps collect that water for the crop to use later,” he says.

Ruwoldt receives most of his rain in the winter (June to August.) Winter is also the more suitable season for crops. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures up to 43C. His cropping period is mid-April to the end of December.

EVOLUTION TO WIDE ROW, DISC SEEDING

Ruwoldt started out direct seeding with narrow row spacing and high disturbance openers with wide points. He was seeding on seven inch row spacing and found that he couldn’t handle the residue. He moved to a narrower opener in 1988, the Primary Sales Super Seeder Point, but found that he still couldn’t handle the residue on the seven-inch row spacing.

“We found out narrow points did a better job of getting the seed in the ground. We want the seed in the ground at the right depth, at the right place in the best environment possible, and we thought we were doing alright, but found the seven inch spacing still too narrow.”

He started seeding 14-inch row spacing on his fababeans, which seemed ridiculous at the time, but stuck with it. With the narrow opener, Ruwoldt found a positive benefit. The opener left furrows that were harvesting water and channeling it to the seedrow and rooting zone, away from evaporation.

“We’re harvesting water, getting it to where it needs to be, with the seed. Nobody in a conventional system can even make a crop grow, so we are planting when everyone else thinks it is too dry. Some years I’ve got 70 per cent of my crop planted and the neighbours haven’t planted anything. Then it rains and five days later I’ve got 6,000 or 7,000 acres planted, and the neighbours are starting to think it is time to go planting.”

As Ruwoldt’s seeding system changed, he found that he also needed to tackle his weed control program. He primarily relies on pre-emergent herbicides, and found that he could up the rates and get very good weed control without hurting the crop — if all the herbicides were applied before seeding.

When he does a preseed spray with Roundup, he also sprays on Avadex, metribuzin or trifluralin at higher rates. He has found that minimal incorporation of the herbicides is still adequate for good weed control. He uses shrouds to direct spray between the seedrows, creating a chem-

ical-free zone where the seed is placed. That way, he doesn’t get any crop damage from herbicides.

Ruwoldt now seeds with a disc with minimal soil disturbance, and he achieves adequate crop safety while still achieving very good weed control. With very low disturbance, the disc do not incorporate residual herbicides into the seedrow. Without the low-disturbance discs, he was getting severe chemical damage to the new seedlings.

“We use chemicals we wouldn’t be able to use — Simazine and Metribuzin on wheat, for example. We can do that in our system with great results. If you don’t rotate your herbicides, you’ll have resistance. In Australia, there is Group-1 and-2 resistant ryegrass you cannot kill with a selective and some areas have ryegrass that cannot be killed with Roundup. We have to rotate our herbicides just like we rotate our crop types if we are to stop herbicide resistance.”

HEAVY 26-INCH DISCS

Ruwoldt kept pushing the limits of what his equipment could do, and moved to a low disturbance, one pass disc drill. He now uses a Daybreak disc seeder with 26-inch discs, compared to the standard 16-inch disc opener sold in North America. Ruwoldt found that a 16-inch disc wouldn’t work on his clay soils, and the discs ended up squashing and compacting the soil.

“The problem with the North American disc is that it is too small. The disc won’t turn, the soil drags, and it makes a hell of a mess. It is so light and tiny that mud just destroys them.”

Ruwoldt’s 26-inch disc opener also differs in the location of the gauge wheel. His is located at the back of the disc, whereas the North American style has it located at the front of the disc.

The disc enters the soil about six inches in front of the gauge wheel. The gauge wheel catches the soil, punches it down away from the disc, leaving a depression in the soil to capture precipitation. In the right conditions the gauge wheel is all that is required. “You really don’t need the press wheel on the back, but we just leave it there to finish the row off.”

Ruwoldt had a brief encounter with residue managers on the front of his discs, but found that “they caused me so much grief and worry that they almost gave me ulcers.” They worked up the soil too much, buried residue, and moved herbicides into the seedrow. As a result, he threw them in his garbage bin, and left the seed tube to wipe the soil and herbicide away from the seed.

SEEDING BETWEEN THE STUBBLE ROWS

Ruwoldt’s seeding evolution eventually moved to seeding between the seedrows. He feels standing stubble has such great value that he doesn’t want to knock it down. “We can use the old residue as a canopy closure — it saves moisture. We get 16 per cent more plants per square metre with a disc compared to a tyne [shank] opener. It’s a no brainer. The yield results show a 10 to 100 per cent yield increase,” he explains.

In trials, Ruwoldt compared lentil yield on plots with no stubble, mowed stubble and standing stubble. The standing stubble yielded seven bushels of lentils in the drought year, where the other plots had no yield.

Ruwoldt has since moved

from 12-inch row spacing to 15 inches for cereals and lentils. Canola, chickpeas and fababeans are on 30-inch centres. He likes 30-inch spacing for several reasons. Foliar diseases are band-sprayed only on the crop, cutting fungicide costs by up to 75 per cent. He gets better penetration of desiccants, and has better harvestability.

Ultimately, the wider seed rows yield more. Ruwoldt had stopped growing fababeans years ago because he couldn’t get them to yield. He started again four to five years ago, and got them to yield significantly better than they used to.

SOIL QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS

Over the years, Ruwoldt has seen many improvements to his soil quality. Those changes have directly contributed to his bottom line. He has seen reduced fertilizer inputs, and now routinely applies 30 kg/ ha (roughly 30 pounds per acre) MAP and 40 kg/ha urea. In 2008, his barley averaged 4.5 tonnes per hectare with total rainfall January to November being only 203 mm — half his average.

He has also looked at the water use efficiency of his crops. In 2006, his average barley yield was around two tonnes per hectare, with a water use efficiency of 28 kg of barley produced per mm of rainfall. The benchmark for his area is 20 kg per hectare per mm. His gross margin on that crop was $473.28 per ha (around $210 per acre) in a year with the worst drought in history. In 2007 the water use efficiency was 38 kg/ha.

In 2008, his lentils produced 15 kg per hectare per mm of rain, compared to the benchmark of nine kg per hectare per mm. His gross margin for the 2008 lentil crop was $1,800 per hectare (around $700 per acre.)

“I believe you have to benchmark against individual fields. If you fix the soil up, and have the right farming system, you’ll be surprised how it comes together.”

This article was prepared in co-operation with Reduced Tillage Linkages in Alberta. For more information visit the website at

from 12-inch row spacing to 15 inches for cereals and lentils. Canola, chickpeas and fababeans are on 30-inch centres. He likes 30-inch spacing for several reasons. Foliar diseases are band-sprayed only on the crop, cutting fungicide costs by up to 75 per cent. He gets better penetration of desiccants, and has better harvestability.

Ultimately, the wider seed rows yield more. Ruwoldt had stopped growing fababeans years ago because he couldn’t get them to yield. He started again four to five years ago, and got them to yield significantly better than they used to.

SOIL QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS

Over the years, Ruwoldt has seen many improvements to his soil quality. Those changes have directly contributed to his bottom line. He has seen reduced fertilizer inputs, and now routinely applies 30 kg/ ha (roughly 30 pounds per acre) MAP and 40 kg/ha urea. In 2008, his barley averaged 4.5 tonnes per hectare with total rainfall January to November being only 203 mm — half his average.

He has also looked at the water use efficiency of his crops. In 2006, his average barley yield was around two tonnes per hectare, with a water use efficiency of 28 kg of barley produced per mm of rainfall. The benchmark for his area is 20 kg per hectare per mm. His gross margin on that crop was $473.28 per ha (around $210 per acre) in a year with the worst drought in history. In 2007 the water use efficiency was 38 kg/ha.

In 2008, his lentils produced 15 kg per hectare per mm of rain, compared to the benchmark of nine kg per hectare per mm. His gross margin for the 2008 lentil crop was $1,800 per hectare (around $700 per acre.)

“I believe you have to benchmark against individual fields. If you fix the soil up, and have the right farming system, you’ll be surprised how it comes together.”

This article was prepared in co-operation with Reduced Tillage Linkages in Alberta. For more information visit the website atwww.reducedtillage.ca

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