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Backyard Trials Influence Opener Choice

Allan Oliver has been running trials on his land since the mid-’70s. Some evaluations have resulted in complete crop failures, which are just as valuable as the trials where everything goes right, says the farmer from Aneroid, Sask. “Knowing what not to do or what not to try is just as worth it sometimes,” he says.

A particular opener study that wrapped a few years ago was so clear in its conclusions that Oliver changed his entire seeder set up based on the results. “We started in the late ’60s running discers, then we moved to a hoe drill and then to full sweeps on an air seeder. Then, based on the trial findings, we moved to a Barton disc opener,” he says.

Wheatland Conservation Area Association and the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA) ran the trial, which wrapped up six years ago. It looked at four types of openers: high disturbance full sweeps, relatively lower disturbance two-and-a-quarter-inch spoons, a three-quarter inch knife and the lowest disturbance of the four — an angle disc. The trial was set up to measure the changing weed densities in four crops representative of rotations in the Brown Soil Zone area — peas, wheat, barley and chickpeas — as well as gauge the effect of soil disturbance on soil moisture conservation based on the opener used.

Eric Oliver, Allan’s son, is president of Wheatland Conservation Area. Eric says it was clear from the first year that the lowest disturbance opener — the angle discs — had the greatest impact on reducing weed densities in the field. “Out of the five years we ran the trial, the disc opener plots always yielded the most and had the fewest weeds from the start. By the fifth year, the knife plots were catching up but it took more time,” he says.

The theory was sound: higher disturbance at seeding causes more weed seeds from the soil seed bank to germinate. But there is some balancing done by the higher disturbance implement, Eric says. “Seeding is tillage, too, and the more disturbance, like with sweeps, the more weeds that were already growing were killed during seeding,” Eric says.

Plots were split in two, half received a pre-seed burnoff and half did not. “It was clear from the start that a pre-seed burnoff was absolutely necessary with the lower disturbance openers because you wouldn’t get much weed kill during seeding,” he says.

Being in a dry area also means conserving moisture at every turn. More disturbance at seeding means more earth exposed to the elements early on, meaning more water loss overall. Eric was surprised to see that even in a relatively wet year, the lower disturbance plots still had better establishment, a factor he contributes to lower weed densities.

Allan ran these plots and saw first hand the rapid decrease in weed densities year over year in the disced plots. “We changed to the disc openers,” he says.


Allan used Barton openers for five years, but eventually the drawbacks were too much and he moved to a c-shank set up, he says. The drawbacks are twofold. One, Allan farms some rocky soil. “Even if the disc is an inch down, if it hits a stone it bounces and leaves the seed too near the surface,” he says. Then, there’s the matter of a single shoot, which is the set up he had. “We were limited with how much fertilizer we could apply with the seed because they were in the same row.”

Eric adds that this trial was done without access to Agrotain or ESN polymer coating. “Now the drawbacks of a single shoot are lessened somewhat,” he says. “A product like Agrotain means you could put one and a half times more nitrogen down with the seed safely. Wheatland and the SSCA have looked at ESN and found you can go even higher with that product with improved seed safety.”

Allan now runs a Flexi-coil 5000 drill with c-shanks, point openers, side-band openers and a Model 3450 tank. He typically runs seed out the side band and fertilizer out the point, meaning the fertilizer is an inch below and an inch over from the seed. “Except peas, peas we put down the point because we want them deeper,” he says.

“We like this set up because overall it’s more consistent. We need a seeder that can go over rocky, sandy and clay soil and deliver more consistent results,” Allan says.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect set up. “Everything on these things is electronic. You sure can’t go out and fix them with a screwdriver anymore,” he laughs. He adds that there is good technical support in his area, which helps, but having access to all the error message codes from the monitor would help, too. “I guess they need to keep those close to their chest, though,” he says.

Ultimately, Allan has learned first hand the value of having plots in his own back yard. “We’ve run all sorts of trials, and each one has been a benefit. Whether it was trying out Russian wild rye on saline soils or Garrison foxtail, or allowing some chemical companies to run crop tolerance trials, having first hand knowledge and experience with the plots has really helped me decide what to do and what not to do on the farm. The extra work has always been worth it.”

Lyndsey Smith is field editor with Grainews in Lumsden, Sask. Email her at [email protected]

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