While technology for calibrating seed drill seeding rates is good, these producers also have their own checks and balances

One common message agronomists try to drive home to producers — and there are many messages when it comes to producing a healthy, vigorous, high yielding crop — and that is first, Get Enough Seed In The Ground.

So what is enough and how do you know? Those are the seeding rate questions we posed to this issue’s Farmer Panel.

Some producers go by the seat of their pants, following some pretty basic guidelines such as three pounds of canola or 1- bushels of barley per acre, regardless of variety or seed type. But panel members contacted at random on this subject pay attention to getting the right amount of seed planted for the rate they have targeted.

Recommended seeding rates will vary slightly, but Alberta Agriculture and other provincial departments of agriculture have good information on their websites, so you can at least see whether you’re hitting or missing the targets.

While there are more details on the websites, with cereals for example, specialists say, producers should target between 20 and 24 plants per square foot, canola should be in the seven to 12 plants per square foot range, flax, 30 to 40 plants, peas seven to nine plants, and lentils 10 to 14 plants per square foot. If you’ve never stopped to count plants per square foot in conjunction with your seeding rate, it might be an interesting exercise.

One tool often referenced for calculating seeding rate is the 1,000 kernel weight formula, which involves weighing 1,000 kernels of a seed batch and then calculating the actual seeding rate (pounds per acre) based on the sample.

Here’s the formula: seeding rate (lb/ac) = desired plant population/ ft x 1,000 K wt. (in grams) seedling survival rate (in decimal form such as 0.90) factor of 10.4

So if your 1000 kernels of seed weighed 35 grams and you want a stand of 30 wheat plants per square foot, and you expect 90 per cent seedling survival, the actual calculation would look like this: 30 plants/ft x 35 g 0.90 10.4 = 112 lb./acre seeding rate. The seedling survival rate, it should be noted, is different than just your germination rate. For example, only an average of 50 per cent of canola seed placed in the ground becomes a viable plant.

Here is how this issue’s Farmer Panel manages seeding rates on their farms.

RON SVANES CARMANGAY , ALTA .

Ron Svanes has trended toward higher seeding rates the last few years. While at one time, the southern Alberta producer “often tried to scrimp” on seed to reduce input costs, experience has shown seeding on the high side of recommended rates not only provides the best chance of higher yields, but also helps to even crop maturity and reduces weed competition.

Svanes, along with his wife Edith and daughter and son-in-law, Mandy and Jason Zeinstra, crop about 4,800 acres of grain, canola and pulse crops near Carmangay, north of Lethbridge.

With wheat and barley, for example, they calibrate the seed drill based on a 1,000 kernel weight. “To be honest we are a bit spoiled,” says Svanes. “We always use certified seed and the seed retailer we use, does that for us. He does the 1,000 kernel weight calculation and then gives us the seeding rate.”

Svanes says while it varies with seed batch, on average wheat is seeded at about 75 pounds per acre and barley at about 90 pounds per acre.

“We used to lowball the seeding rate at one time, but now with the fertility program we are using and a zero till cropping system, we use a higher seeding rate,” says Svanes. “It produces a better plant stand, and more even maturity, which is important as we plan to straight cut the crop.”

Although a few years ago, Svanes tried to get by with a three-pound seeding rate for canola, he now targets a 4- to five pound per acre seeding rate. “With the higher rate you have more plants in the field which helps control weeds, and also with the higher rate, if there is some crusting of the soil, or cold weather, and some seeds don’t germinate, then you have more out there,” he says.

Crops are seeded with a John Deere 1895 disc drill, equipped with a Flexicoil air tank. Again, a few years ago, with older machinery, Svanes use to manually calibrate the drill to the seeding rate, but now he is quite confident in computer technology. “We will check it, but with the technology they have today it is very reliable,” says Svanes. “Compared to older systems, now you can just punch in the code and that’s the rate it seeds at.”

Svanes doesn’t want any surprises however, so he does run a basic calculation during seeding season. He knows how much seed is in the tank, and how many acres

I can seed 80 acres, and by knowing the

square footage of the tank and crop density, I can determine if an adjustment on the drill needs to be made. It takes a bit of figuring, but it is exact, and when

you are riding around in the tractor all day, there is nothing to do but math

it should seed, so at some point if he has too much, or not enough for the size of field, he can double check calibration.

And son-in-law Jason has invested in a seed counter that will be attached to several runs on the seed drill this spring. “It is just one more check that the system is running properly,” says Svanes. “We will calibrate the drill, but then the counter will monitor certain runs as we seed, as well.”

Aside from the seeding rate technology, Svanes also looks at the actual stand or seedling emergence, to ensure he’s getting the plant density he targets.

JOHN SERHIENKO BLAINE LAKE, SASK.

John Serhienko monitors the seeding rates of all crops he produces on his north-central Saskatchewan farm, but he pays particular attention to canola to ensure the rate is not more or less than desired.

With hybrid canola varieties, Serhienko targets a four-pound per acre seeding rate, and with the open pollinated varieties he will increase that to 4.5 to five pounds per acre.

“These newer drills have a very good calibration and metering system,” he says. “But we find with canola, in particular, that every variety is a bit different. The seed is a bit different, perhaps the seed treatment is a bit different, so we check the seeding rate with every variety.”

Serhienko crops about 2,000 acres on his mixed farming operation south of Blaine Lake, which is north of Saskatoon. Last year he bought a newer Harmon drill, with paired-row openers on 12-inch row spacing, for direct seeding the crop.

When he starts seeding a particular variety, the first step is to put a collection bag over one of the drill runs and then seed a one-half mile long strip of field. “We weigh the seed from that half-mile check to make sure we hitting that four pounds per acre. If you switch from one InVigor variety to another, for example, it may not be a big difference, but you may need to adjust the drill to correct for a quarter or half pound per acre.”

Serhienko says while producers use different seeding rates based on different equipment, he finds a shallow-seeded crop, pressed into moisture, has very good germination going to add another $10 to $20 per acre to your costs.”

With the cereal crops, wheat and oats, he isn’t quite as particular as with the canola. He does make a 1,000 kernel weigh calculation every so often, but again says

–Kelly Kabernick, Sanford, Man.

and an optimal plant stand, at the four-pound rate. “And you have to keep costs in mind too,” he says. “If we can get a good stand at the four pound rate, that is excellent. If we went to the five pound or six pound rate that’s with newer drills, the calibration systems are very accurate.

Serhienko makes a point of using good quality seed that has been germination tested. With wheat, he aims to seed about two bushels or 120 pounds per acre and with oats he seeds three bushels per acre. These rates are a bit higher than what some producers use, but with 12-inch spacing on the seed rows he likes the higher rate to help control weeds and also to produce a more even stand for straight cutting at harvest. Serhienko keeps detailed records on drill settings and seeding rates, which is a good reference for setting the drill the following season.

With peas, which are the main pulse crop he produces, he uses a three bushel per acre seeding rate. His objective is to seed the crop into moisture. He adds no fertilizer to peas at seeding, but he does use a double application of inoculant — a liquid along with a peat-based product — just to make sure the seed is fully coated. “I know that one inoculant is all that is recommended, but I find it is just good insurance to use two,” he says. “Or if I just use a peat-based product, I throw in an extra bag. I don’t want the inoculant to be the limiting factor.”

One other detail to optimize germination and even maturity is to make a point to seed fields with seed rows running north and south. Serhienko says with stubble on 12 inch spacing the amount of shading if seed rows run east and west is measurable. “With shading on those paired rows, you can get one row that is germinated and growing the other hasn’t even come out of the ground. So if the seed rows run north and south they get much more even exposure to the sun.”

KELLY KABERNICK SANFORD, MANITOBA

Using good quality seed is one part of getting a vigorous crop stand, but Kelly Kabernick also makes regular checks on seeding rates as he seeds his southern Manitoba farm to ensure he’s getting the targeted number of plants in the field.

“Our seeding rates are largely based on past experience,” says Kabernick, who crops about 3,000 acres at Sanford, just southwest of Winnipeg. “We look at the seeding rate we have used in the past to see if that is giving us the plant stand we want. And we have increased our rates to get the plant population up.”

But once he determines the desired seeding rate, then he makes several checks during seeding operations to ensure that is the rate going into the ground.

Kabernick seeds wheat, oats, flax and canola with a Flexicoil 5000 air drill.

Growing InVigor hybrid canola for example, Kabernick says he was using a four to 4- pound per acre seeding rate, but felt the stand was a bit thin. He increased the rate to five pounds per acre.

To ensure he is getting that five pound rate, Kabernick makes sev-

eral spot checks. First, when he starts with a variety in a field he puts only four bags of seed in the tank — enough to seed 37 acres for example — and then he watches his acre counter on the drill and stops at 35 acres. He then empties the tank and weighs the remaining seed. “I dump the seed out and weigh it and I know exactly what the seeding rate is and can adjust if necessary,” says Kabernick.

Once he has made that first check, he can go ahead and seed the rest of the field, although he will make the check again when he changes seed lots or varieties. He makes the check about about once per quarter section.

The wheat seeding rate is again based on past experience on how the stand looked. Kabernick was seeding at a lower rate of 90 to 100 pounds per acre, but increased that to 100 to 110 pounds (aiming for 105 pounds) to give him the plant numbers he wants.

With oats, if seeds are small, he targets 2- bushels per acre, or with larger seed 3- bushels per acre. With flax he aims for a 60 pound per acre seeding rate.

He can check the actual seeding rate in a couple ways. There is the hand crank method, where he slips a bag over a manifold under the air drill, and he knows that 52 hand cranks equals one acre. So he can do the 52 cranks, weigh the seed collected, and know how much is being put in the ground.

The other option, with wheat for example, is a volume measurement. He can fill the tank on the air seeder to the maximum, which is 80 acres worth of seed. He knows the exact square footage of the seed compartment of the tank, and he knows the density of wheat. “So I can fill the tank completely, seed 80 acres and then see if there is any seed left in the tank,” says Kabernick. “I can seed 80 acres, and by knowing the square footage of the tank and crop density, I can determine if an adjustment on the drill needs to be made. It takes a bit of figuring, but it is exact, and when you are riding around in the tractor all day, there is nothing to do but math.

Kabernick says by looking at past seeding rate records and crop history, he can determine whether seeding rates need to be changed from year to year.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at

eral spot checks. First, when he starts with a variety in a field he puts only four bags of seed in the tank — enough to seed 37 acres for example — and then he watches his acre counter on the drill and stops at 35 acres. He then empties the tank and weighs the remaining seed. “I dump the seed out and weigh it and I know exactly what the seeding rate is and can adjust if necessary,” says Kabernick.

Once he has made that first check, he can go ahead and seed the rest of the field, although he will make the check again when he changes seed lots or varieties. He makes the check about about once per quarter section.

The wheat seeding rate is again based on past experience on how the stand looked. Kabernick was seeding at a lower rate of 90 to 100 pounds per acre, but increased that to 100 to 110 pounds (aiming for 105 pounds) to give him the plant numbers he wants.

With oats, if seeds are small, he targets 2- bushels per acre, or with larger seed 3- bushels per acre. With flax he aims for a 60 pound per acre seeding rate.

He can check the actual seeding rate in a couple ways. There is the hand crank method, where he slips a bag over a manifold under the air drill, and he knows that 52 hand cranks equals one acre. So he can do the 52 cranks, weigh the seed collected, and know how much is being put in the ground.

The other option, with wheat for example, is a volume measurement. He can fill the tank on the air seeder to the maximum, which is 80 acres worth of seed. He knows the exact square footage of the seed compartment of the tank, and he knows the density of wheat. “So I can fill the tank completely, seed 80 acres and then see if there is any seed left in the tank,” says Kabernick. “I can seed 80 acres, and by knowing the square footage of the tank and crop density, I can determine if an adjustment on the drill needs to be made. It takes a bit of figuring, but it is exact, and when you are riding around in the tractor all day, there is nothing to do but math.

Kabernick says by looking at past seeding rate records and crop history, he can determine whether seeding rates need to be changed from year to year.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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