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Broadcast Seed Without Blowing It

With so many saturated fields last year, many farmers turned to last-resort methods like “blowing” seed on with broadcasting equipment. With a high probability of a wet spring again this year, many more might be willing to try broadcasting cereals and oilseeds on to fields too wet to get an air seeder into. But is that really a viable alternative?

“I was surprised how many people tried it,” says Venkata Vakulabharanam, provincial specialist for oilseed crops with Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. “But the results so far have been really mixed. It works sometimes and not others. There’s no guarantee it will work; some things seem to work better than others.”

What probably won’t work is spreading seed onto a field and just leaving it. “When you just broadcast it, it’s just going to sit on the top and not do anything,” says Vakulabharanam. “Seed-to-soil contact is very important. The most successful way is to broadcast it then harrow it and put some top-dress fertilizer and chemical on it once it dries out later in the season. That’s when (farmers) were able to get decent results and harvest a crop (last year).”

FIELD RESULTS

Kent Hanmer of Govan, Sask., says his family was one of those forced to try the technique last spring. The results were mixed. “For cereals, it worked excellent,” he says. “The canola didn’t work too well. But the fields we put the canola on were so wet the harrow wasn’t really stirring the dirt because the field was absolutely saturated. Where we did the cereal grain, the harrow worked like it should. It was probably one of the best wheat crops we’ve ever had.”

To account for the risk of lower germination rates, Hanmer says they bumped up the seeding rates on wheat fields. “We went to about 200 pounds per acre,” he says. But it appeared the broadcasting method worked so well that germination rates stayed high, leaving a high plant population per square foot in the field.

Vakulabharanam thinks bumping up seeding rates is a good idea, but the trick is deciding how much to increase it by. “You may want to go higher, but how much more is anybody’s guess, because it all depends on how much soil contact you’re going to get and how many (kernels) will be deep seeded and those kinds of things.” Because seeds require moisture for germination, placing them very shallow could affect their ability to germinate. If there are dry and wet areas in the field, the drier spots will create patches of delayed germination and uneven maturity in the fall.

Field conditions will affect the results in other ways, too. “Most of the success (last year) was on cultivated land,” adds Vakulabharanam. “With stubble, the success rate of broadcasting is minimal, because with stubble (residue) the seed-to-soil contact is going to be minimized.”

FOLLOW UP WITH INPUTS

Possibly the most important consideration for farmers, though, is the need to think ahead before making the decision to broadcast seed on a wet field. If it is unlikely they’ll be able to follow through and apply fertilizer and herbicides, it will almost certainly be a wasted effort. “Success will depend on how much they will be able to do during the season,” says Vakulabharanam. “You have to keep it healthy and growing.” Applying fertilizer and herbicides are important for growing crops in normal years, and they won’t be any less so after broadcasting seed onto fields in wet seasons.

And crop diseases can be especially troublesome in years where there is excess moisture, which means getting a sprayer into fields may be more important than ever.

If farmers applied fertilizer last fall, they may have an advantage when broadcasting seed this spring. High existing nutrient levels will make it more likely the crop will get off to a good start and survive until it can be top dressed. If, on the other hand, soil nutrient levels are very low, it may not be possible to top dress fertilizer in time to keep yield potential high.

Hanmer believes the high nutrient level in his wheat fields last season was a primary reason the crop was a success. “It was all due to conditions,” he says. “We fertilized them well. Those particular fields we would expect to yield in our top three crops every year, anyway. But the (broadcast) canola was in the bottom 10 per cent of the land we farm, so I’m not sure it was a fair comparison.”

Even though the Hanmer farm had better luck with the broadcast cereals than canola, Vakulabharanam thinks small-seeded crops would generally fare better when broadcast than cereals, which are typically seeded much deeper. But keeping crop maturity consistent would be the challenge. “This year we had (canola) crops flowering in September,” he says.

EQUIPMENT SPECS

Hanmer says he would definitely consider broadcasting cereal grains again if conditions required it. “We used a Valmar 7600 (for cereals),” he says. “For canola we used a Valmar mounted on a heavy harrow.” But he wouldn’t wait until the last minute. “I’ve told quite a few of my friends go early and do it,” he says.

When he compared canola broadcast seeded in wet spots on the farm’s field to other areas seeded with an air drill with independently linked openers, the difference in yield was significant. So they will be looking at other alternatives for that crop if conditions remain difficult.

The farm now uses a Case IH STX 500 Quad-trac tractor which allowed them to seed much further into low, wet spots with a drill last spring than wheeled tractors could. “You could draw a line where that drill went compared to where we broadcast,” he notes, even though fertilizer rates were similar. “Across the road where we only broadcast it (the canola) was poor.” Hanmer hopes that the tractor will give him the ability to avoid having to resort to broadcasting for canola and take advantage of the better seed and fertilizer placement the drill provides.

ScottGarveyismachineryeditorfor Grainews.ContacthimatScott. [email protected]

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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