Is mechanical harvest weed seed control a good option for the Prairies?

Saskatchewan farmers discuss the benefits and ROI of weed seed-destroying equipment

The Seed Terminator attaches to the combine and pulverizes weed seeds before they become weeds. To see the unit in action on Lade's farm, visit 
https://youtu.be/O1Tg4UvM_lE.

Saskatchewan farmer Josh Lade is starting to reap the rewards of using a harvest weed seed smasher on his farm. With his wife, Jeannie, and partners John, Janice, Rayden and Jenn Wiebe, Lade grows cereals, pulse crops and oilseeds on about 16,000 acres near Osler, Sask. In total, the Lades and the Wiebes have imported two Seed Terminators from Australia, the first one in 2018 and the second in 2019. For three years now, the Saskatchewan producers have used the equipment on the farm.

The herbicide cost savings and yield gain, not to mention herbicide-resistant weed control, with the use of a harvest weed seed smasher make this equipment worth serious examination, says an Osler-based producer.

Installation of the first Seed Terminator unit in Canada in 2018. From left to right: Josh Lade, Nick Berry and Lloyd Berry. photo: Josh Lade

“We’ve had one Seed Terminator for three seasons, the other for two,” says Lade. “In 2018, we had some plugging with the first model, which is a low-capacity model, but it worked extremely well with 98 per cent of weed seed destroyed. Our second unit, purchased in 2019, is a high-capacity unit that is more open and worked flawlessly, handling every condition — but it only destroys about 90 per cent. Some smaller seeds got through.”

Last fall, Lade and his partners tried a new and improved mill developed at Seed Terminator that provided more airflow and it achieved pulverization closer to the industry standard of 98 per cent of weed seed. Lade reports the design of the high-capacity model is currently being updated to boost airflow and help in tough Northern Hemisphere conditions.

One of Lade’s main reasons for purchasing the Seed Terminators is to battle the growing problem of herbicide-resistant weeds.

When comparing weed pressure in the spring of 2020 with 2019, Lade notes there was a huge reduction in volunteer regrowth in 2020 due to use of the Seed Terminator the previous fall. “What I couldn’t believe (last) summer was the huge impact on volunteer canola,” he says.

“Where we couldn’t use the Seed Terminator (in 2019) because we only have the two units, there was so much more. With wild oats, we find they stay put and don’t get spread. You can map the patches and deal with them. Kochia is picked up well in-crop as it tends to grow upward and is easily collected and smashed. We have salty areas where crops don’t do well but kochia does well there, it likes having no competition, so we’ve decided to seed grass in these areas to help stop the spread of theses kochia nurseries.”

The Seed Terminator mill technology uses impact, crushing, grinding and shearing motions to destroy weed seed. photo: Josh Lade

There are two other harvest weed seed smashers available to Canadian farmers — the Harrington Integrated Seed Destructor, which must also be imported from Australia, and the Redekop Seed Control Unit, which is made in Canada. They all draw at least 70 horsepower and are intended for Class 7 and larger combines.

Lade’s cousin Nick Berry is the company founder and director of research and development at Seed Terminator in Australia.

A new user’s experience

Andrew Reddekopp and his family purchased two Seed Terminators in 2020 for their farm near Hepburn, Sask. “After observing the results that Lade was seeing on his farm here in Saskatchewan and researching the success of harvest weed seed control in other areas of the world with even more significant herbicide resistance problems than ours, we were confident that it was worth trying the technology for ourselves,” he says.

This year, they ran two S790 combines with Seed Terminators and two without to be able to compare. The combines with the weed seed-destroying equipment harvested about 3,600 acres each and Reddekopp says both operated well. “After installation, all we had to do was grease and check belt tensions on the units as part of our regular combine maintenance routine,” he says. “The combines with Seed Terminators used approximately one litre per acre more fuel than the combines without, which is about what we expected.”

For Reddekopp and his family, cleavers, kochia and wild oats are the top three weed threats. “Cleavers and kochia have good seed retention, so the Seed Terminators should be very effective in preventing seed dispersal of those species. Wild oats are a bit more of a challenge because seed retention is not as good and only some of the seeds make it into the combine. However, any seeds that do make it into the combine will not be spread by the combine; they will either end up in the hopper or be destroyed by the Seed Terminators. This will hopefully allow us to minimize spread of the wild oat patches and allow us to more intensively manage problem areas with multiple herbicide groups while keeping weed control costs at a reasonable level.”

There are currently four Seed Terminators in use on the Prairies. Andrew Reddekopp, who farms near Hepburn, Sask., bought two units in 2020 and the other two belong to Josh and Jeannie Lade and John, Janice, Rayden and Jenn Wiebe. For 2021, Lade and his partners have ordered two more units and Reddekopp has ordered one. photo: Josh Lade

The Reddekopp’s agronomist also collected chaff from their combines with and without the equipment, with plans to grow out the samples and compare them.

Reddekopp and his family expect to see a difference in weed pressure in 2021, but understand it may take several years before the full benefits are realized. “The Seed Terminators are a big initial investment, but over several years they should cost about the same, or even less, than a herbicide application,” he says. “To us, that’s a reasonable financial investment for a new weed control strategy.”

ROI timeline

While it’s hard for anyone to nail down ROI, Lade believes the investment in a Seed Terminator is as good as a soil-residual herbicide. “I think an important thing that is neglected in the discussion of costs is the damage that in-crop herbicides can cause,” he says.

“There can be a significant yield penalty when you use grass-selective spray for wild oats in cereal crops, and these sprays are expensive. Right now, I limit these passes to where the weeds are going to impact on yield and I feel like on our farm, with the weed smasher, we’re starting to get to the point where we can do patch management and we can start getting away from grass selectives in wheat and barley and just go after the broadleaf weeds in those crops. We will be able to skip the grass-selective, in-season applications entirely.”

Josh Lade (left) and his cousin Nick Berry, who is based in Australia and is the founder and director of research and development at Seed Terminator. photo: Josh Lade

Lade calculates if you are spraying 1,000 acres with in-season grass selectives, at $15 an acre, that’s $15,000 total. Add that to the yield reduction from crop damage of about two bushels per acre minimum (total of 2,000 bushels or $12,000) and you have $27,000.

“If you’ve spent $100,000 on the seed smasher, you’ve almost paid back a third of that in herbicide savings and yield in one year,” he says. “You’ve got harvest weed seed control to smash seed and stop the spread, keep it in the patch, and that’s just wild oats. It also works very well for cleavers, buckwheat, and kochia just to name a few.”

He believes the weed-smashing tech is proven by now and if farmers wait further for proof of economic return while herbicide resistance grows, it will be too late. “You only have a certain number of shots on your farm before resistance develops, so if you can avoid applying the specific chemical or destroying any weed survivors at harvest, you’ve still got those shots left,” he says.

“We have to get ourselves through to when there will be new chemistries available, and we have a proven tool here that will allow us to buy that time. If you have low weed numbers, the weed smasher will keep things under control without the need for herbicides. Buying that time is critical.”

About the author

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Treena Hein is a freelance writer specializing in science, tech and business trends in agriculture and more.

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