Chasing down every last acre in a field to get it seeded may not make the best economic sense, according to a study conducted by the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Humboldt, Sask. Jockeying around rocks, potholes, sloughs, creeks, roads, and oil, gas and power installations just to get that odd sized piece of ground seeded or sprayed may be costing way more than it produces.
Having air seeders and field sprayers equipped with GPS and autosteer systems significantly reduces most of the field overlap, says Nathan Gregg, PAMI project leader, but those tools don’t eliminate all extra costs.
“The main thing the study showed us is that farmers should certainly look at the cost of farming around obstacles in their fields,” he says. “Every farm and every field is different, so there is no blanket formula that can be applied. But certainly producers should be considering other options that can help improve efficiency, and may perhaps put those odd sized pieces to better and higher use.”
The PAMI study, looking at the operations of local producers on more than 60 fields, showed the amount of overlap can range from two to 25 per cent.
The PAMI study group took data collected from producers and created a model that could be used to make further calculations. Several types of field obstacles were measured ranging from sloughs and potholes on the interior of a field, to obstacles along the edge, to ditches and creeks.
“By far, GPS and autosteer system provided the biggest improvement in efficiency,” says Gregg. “But it didn’t correct everything. If you look at the situation where a farmer is seeding around a power pole for a example, they might make two or three passes to get that last wedge of ground just because they don’t like to see it bare, or perhaps they don’t want neighbours to see an area that has been missed. Some seeding systems now have sectional shut offs, but not all, so in some cases to get that last few feet of soil, depending on the size of their seeding system, they are overseeding a full 75 feet.”
WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?
This study assumed that headland overlap — every time you came to the end of the field and made a turn — is overlapping at least half of the implement width. One option is to consider making fields bigger, if possible. Farm a 160-acre field instead of two 80-acre fields, or a 320-acre field instead of two 160-acre fields. Larger fields reduce the number of headlands.
If you have sloughs, rock piles or a grove of trees that break up a field, look at using smaller equipment. That isn’t always a practical solution, says Gregg, since it is unlikely a producer wants to downsize implement size, or run two lines of equipment in an attempt to be more efficient. But one farmer could look at working with a neighbour who does have narrower implements. Perhaps the neighbour can farm certain fields more efficiently.
One example PAMI cited showed farming around a particular obstacle with a 47-foot wide implement posed a potential overlap of 3.5 per cent, while farming around the same obstacle with a 22-foot wide implement reduced the potential overlap to 1.65 per cent.
Amalgamating obstacles is another option. PAMI recommends if any obstacles, such as potholes or sloughs for example, are closer together than two widths of the implement, perhaps they could be combined into one obstacle to make field operations more efficient. In another PAMI example, the number of field obstacles in a field — waterholes and rock piles — was reduced from 13 to 10. Farming that 150.43 acre field with a 33-foot air seeder, with 13 obstacles resulted in an overlap of 13.57 acres or 9.02 per cent. Reducing the number of obstacles to 10, reduced the cropped acres to 147.83 acres, but reduced the overlap to 5.94 acres or 4.02 percent. Reducing the number of obstacles did take 2.6 acres out of production, but it still penciled out to be an overall cost savings.
Squaring up obstacles also helps to improve field efficiency. Rather than try and follow an irregular outline of a slough for example, sacrifice a few feet of field and make it square.
Also the study suggests the option of converting smaller cut-off parcels into perennial crops such as forages, trees, or native fruit, rather than trying to work the small area with larger field equipment to produce annual crops.
The PAMI study showed it isn’t just seed and herbicide costs that have to be considered when farming around obstacles. Another example involved a producer spraying a 640-acre field using GPS and autosteer technology. The amount of overlap was actually quite small, but the actual distance covered by the tractor was the same as if the producer was farming a 900-acre field. So time, fuel and wear and tear have to be considered as well.
Another benefit of determining the cost of farming around obstacles, could relate to negotiations with oil and gas companies planning to install a well or some other obstacle in the field. The cost to the producer is not just the actual area of the pump jack or the road to it, but the cost of farming around it as well.
PAMI produced five fact sheets that outline the findings from their studies. These facts sheets are available on the PAMI website at www.pami.ca.
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]