Running a 24-hour seeding operation

Once the drill is parked, Terry Aberhart takes time to look back at his seeding schedule

With the crop in the ground by late May and rainshowers moving in, Terry Aberhart says the post-seeding season will be a good time to think about how they will be approaching plans for the 2017 crop year on their east-central Saskatchewan farm.

Aberhart, who along with family members operates Aberhart Farms at Langenburg, near the Manitoba border, says one of the practices they’ll be reviewing over early summer is a new schedule of running one of the seed drills on a 24-hour shift.

“We played around with it a bit in 2015 and after that season decided to try it further in 2016,” he says. Manpower and timing wise it didn’t fit in the early part of their 2016 seeding season, “but once we started seeding canola, we decided to the run the drill 24 hours.

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“It is one of things we will be reviewing over the coming weeks and there may be some pro and con views, but overall I think it worked quite well.”

The Abertharts crop 10,800 acres at Langenburg, about 2.5 hours north and east of Regina. Running two seed drills, 2016 crops included malt barley, spring wheat, canola and hemp. As well, with a strong market this year, peas are also in rotation, they are testing the suitability of faba beans, and so far he’s been impressed with the performance of a newer variety of fall-seeded hybrid rye he’s contracted to a milling company in Winnipeg.

On the night shift

Running a seed drill 24 hours (two 12-hour shifts) isn’t necessarily a new concept, but Aberhart says it might be more common in other areas with flatter farmland and usually drier field conditions. “One of things I had to think about is if there’s a likelihood you’re going to get stuck two or three times a day, do you really want to be dealing with that at 2 a.m. when you’re out there by yourself,” he says.

The test run in 2015 seemed to work fine, so for 2016 they put in a full week of 24-hour seeding with canola the third week of May. With Aberthart and his wife deciding to take the night shifts, he says they would have tried it with some of the early-seeded crops — they started seeding peas in late April — but for different scheduling reasons it worked best for canola. “With the other crops it seemed like I was needed at different places on other parts of the farm,” he says. “And canola might be a bit simpler for seeding just because it requires less tending.”

The two 12-hour shifts replaced one operator being out there for a single 16 to 18 hour shift, says Aberhart. “Part of our thinking was to increase efficiency with equipment and keep it running for more hours,” he says. “But, as we got into this we’re also thinking it is easier on the operator too. It is long enough, but you’re not going until you play out — the shift is set at 10 to 12 hours and then the next operator takes over.”

Depending on how the day went, Aberhart started his seeding shift between 6 and 8 p.m. and then would turn it over to the next operator around 5 a.m. “Then I would go home and make sure things were organized for the day crew as they were getting started around 6 a.m., then I would try and catch some sleep between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the kids are at school. Once I got up I would check on how things had gone during the day before starting the night shift in the evening.”

Aberhart worked the shift with one support worker tending the drill.

Guiding light technology

“For obvious reasons it is nicer to be working in the daylight, but today’s equipment has really good lighting systems, and with GPS and autosteer you know exactly where you are in the field,” he says. Through several years of using variable rate application, Aberhart also has a good mapping system that appears on the monitor in the tractor cab as a further reference point.

“I think it is also important to know your equipment well and also to know your fields well,” he says. “That is one of the main reasons I wanted to take the night shift myself.”

Aberhart Farms seeds the crop with a 70-foot Salford drill, equipped with sectional controls and a 60 foot Bourgault 8810 hoe drill. As equipment costs increase, Aberhart says it is important to be as efficient as possible. “Going to two 12-hour shift rather than one 16 to 18 hour shift you’re roughly seeding about one-third more acres in a day,” he says. “So as costs increase it is important to amortize those costs over more acres.”

TIPS FOR THE POST-SEEDING SEASON

Reviewing the seeding season shortly after the crop is planted, is one of suggestions Aberhart has for clients through his crop consulting service as well.

As the owner of Sure Growth Technologies, Aberhart says there are several things for farmers to consider once the crop is in the ground.

“One of the big things, just as we are doing, is to have a look at the past season while it is still fresh in your mind, think about what you might like to change or do differently for the next season,” he says. “Have a look at what worked, or didn’t work or is there something you’d like to try next year. That sort of review led us to try the 24-hour seeding, and this June we will review it again.”

A few other post-seeding tips from the crop consultant:

  • Once the crop is seeded start scouting fields. How did your equipment perform? Are there any misses with seeding or fertilizer application?
  • Make a note of weeds and pay attention for early signs of insects or disease that might affect the crop.
  • Immediately following seeding is a good time to service equipment, check out or repair any system that perhaps wasn’t working properly during the season.
  • Once the crop is seeded it is too late to change seeding decisions, but have a look at what the markets for various crops are doing. See if anything has changed and look for any new marketing opportunities that may be available.

“It is good to catch your breath once the crop is planted,” says Aberhart. “But it is also a time to start monitoring your fields to see how everything is growing.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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