Wider Row Spacing Popular

Ten-to 12-inch seed row spacing, and in one case even wider, appears to be the spacing of choice among producers contacted for the farmer panel for this issue of Grainews.

Here is what this month’s panel had to say about their seeding systems:

CALVIN GUST BOWSMAN, MAN.

Calvin Gust is pleased with the John Deere air drill he has been using for the past three years to seed about 2,200 acres of wheat and canola on his Swan River Valley farm, in northwest Manitoba.

Gust, who farms at Bowsman, just north of the town of Swan River, switched from an older John Deere hoe press drill with narrow openers on seven-inch row spacing to the 45-foot wide John Deere 1820 air drill with 10-inch spacing. “Switching from the hoe press drill to this big air drill was like jumping light years ahead,” he says. “Actually for the first year I was afraid to seed canola with it, so I used the air drill for wheat and still used the hoe press drill for canola. I was concerned the air drill wouldn’t have enough flexibility to seed shallow. You’ve got all this iron and big shanks with 400 pound trips and I figured it would bury the seed miles deep, but actually it does a nice job.”

Gust’s air drill is equipped with a narrow sweep opener which spreads the seed over about three inches, and then it is packed with three inch packer wheels.

His usual plan is to make one cultivator pass in the fall, followed by a second operation to apply anhydrous ammonia and then follow that with a heavy harrow to smooth out the ridges.

“That bit of fall tillage works down the crop residue, so it isn’t an issue when it comes time to seed. Most of these newer drills appear to be able to work through trash without any problem, anyway.”

EMILE GREGOIRE NORTH BATTLEFORD, SASK.

Brothers Emile and Denis Gregoire jumped in with a whole new seeding system, including a new tractor equipped with GPS, in 2008 as they upgraded to a 50-foot system set at 12-inch row spacing.

They made the switch from a seeding system with eight-inch spacing to 12 inch, with a few reservations. “We went for the full meal deal and changed everything for 2008,” says Emile. “We made the decision to go to 12 inch spacing and then we thought later maybe we should have gone to 10 inch, but come harvest we were quite pleased how everything turned out.”

Gregoire says there may be pros and cons to the 12-inch spacing, but overall yields were good and they liked the way the equipment performed. They are using an air tank with a New Holland ST 830 tool bar, equipped with Bourgault tip openers and the Technotill boot system.

While they straight cut most of their crops, there is a risk when swathing wider seed rows that the swath of some crops like peas and lentils could fall between the rows. Wider rows are not an issue when straight combining, and if they do swath they can always cut on an angle, he says.

“On the other hand with narrower eight-inch row spacing, once that canopy closes, if you have to apply a fungicide it is almost impossible to get the spray to penetrate through that canopy,” he says. “So the wider seed row spacing makes it possible to get coverage to the whole plant.

“It is possible we might have more weeds appearing in those wider rows, but at the same time I think we will get more air flow through the crop and less likelihood of disease development. Even with a big crop, or in a cool wet spring, the ground underneath will dry out better.”

With the wider row spacing, the Gregoires follow a two-bushel per acre seeding rate with cereals, in a bid to keep the plant count up. “Your main plants are what produce most of the yield, so if you can get more of those and a nice even germination, yields should be as good if not better than with narrower spacing,” he says. “Researchers say you get 65 to 70 per cent of your yield form the main cereal plant and about 30 percent from the tillers.

“Also if you have good seed placement, and nice even germination you have a much more even stand if you have to spray for wheat midge, for example. Your crop isn’t at different growth stages.”

With the Technotill seeding system, which uses a skid plate to make seed to soil contact, he says he can seed down to moisture, for improved germination.

“With canola, for example, which needs to be a shallow seeded crop, the opener makes a little furrow so you can place the seed down 1.5 inches deep, but then with that plate you are only packing one-quarter to half an inch of soil on top of the seed. You get nice even germination.”

The Technotill system is designed so fertilizer is placed just above and to the side of the seed row. “I don’t think there would be a problem with seedling injury, regardless, but for the past few years we’ve also used fertilizer treated with Agrotain, so there is a two-week delay as nitrogen is released. With the combination of seed and fertilizer placement we have seen some phenomenal yields,” he says.

The Gregoires also use a Redekop MAV chopper on the combine for good distribution of crop residue, so he doesn’t expect the seeding system will have trouble working through standing stubble.

TONY VANDENHURK MACOUN, SASK.

While Vandenhurk now knows he needs to keep stubble shorter so his seeding system can work through crop residue, he says an air drill with 12-inch row spacing is not only economical to operate, but also produces excellent yields.

Vandenhurk, who farms near Macoun in southeast Saskatchewan, has been using a Seed Hawk air drill for the past 10 years. He switched in the late ‘90s from a Bourgault air seeder with eight inch spacing, to one of the first Seed Hawks with 10 inch spacing. After a couple seasons of using that, he upgraded to a newer machine with 12-inch spacing.

“My fuel costs averaged about $7.80 per acre last year, and most of my fuel is used during harvest,” says Vandenhurk, who produces cereals and canola as well as peas and lentils. “I can pull this 60-foot drill with a 325-horsepower tractor, whereas I know some producers need a 400-horsepower tractor for a 55-foot wide machine.”

The Seed Hawk toolbar has three rows of shanks on 12-inch spacing. Vandenhurk learned after the first year he needs to keep cereal stubble in particular at six to eight inches in height to avoid problems with trash clearance.

With the Seed Hawk system, seed is placed in a narrow row, above and to the side of the fertilizer row. It is a two-opener system with the first knife placing fertilizer, while the second opener is offset to the side for placing seed.

Vandenhurk uses a liquid phosphate product with the seed, but nitrogen and other granular nutrients are placed in the fertilizer row.

With a direct seeding system, he either applies a pre-seeding glyphosate burndown or, if conditions permit, it may be a pre-emergent glyphosate application.

“With that wide seed row spacing, the crop doesn’t give the same weed competition as you would with narrower spacing,” says Vandenhurk. “So you have to keep an eye on chemical needs just in case something shows up. On the other hands, weeds between rows may not be as big an issue because there is less soil disturbance.”

The 12-inch row spacing has worked well, and he says he would even be interested in looking at a seeding system with 14-inch row spacing.

CURT MCNAUGHTON RUMSEY, ALTA.

Increasing the plant count per square foot in cereal crops is one of the main reasons the McNaughton family has been playing around with different openers and row spacing on their south central Alberta farm.

They had been using a ConservaPak seeding system with 12-inch row spacing for several years, but it only placed seed in a narrow one inch row, says Curt McNaughton, who operates MDM Aqua Farms along with his father and brother. They crop about 3,600 acres, but also produce tilapia fish for the restaurant market.

“No matter what we did by increasing the seeding rate, we couldn’t seem to get anymore than 18 plants per square foot established,” he says. “It seemed the concentration of seed in that narrow row prevented more plants from germinating.”

Last year, they tried a 47-foot Morris Contour drill with a paired row seeding system, with 10-inch row spacing. That system split the seed row in two, while the fertilizer was placed between and below the seed rows. The paired row design doesn’t spread seed over a wide band, but it does create two narrow rows of seed that from outside edge to outside edge are about four inches apart.

“That seed spread seemed to do the trick,” says McNaughton. “Our plant counts jumped to 25 to 27 plants per square foot, which is what we were after.”

While the paired row delivered the desired results, they decided they might as well optimize their seeding time, so they traded the 47-foot Morris Contour drill for a 60-foot Morris drill, and modified it to have 56 openers on 12-inch spacing across the 60 feet. It will be used for the first time this spring.

“With a narrow single seed row we weren’t getting the plant counts,” he says. “Particularly in barley and durum we didn’t get canopy closure, there was too much bare ground and often we would end up with late flushes of wild buckwheat later in the season.”

Also they were wasting seed, he says. With a 1.5 to 1.75 bushel per acre seeding rate he figured at least half a bushel per acre of seed was being lost because it wouldn’t grow.

While he talks in general terms of a bushels of seed per acre seeding rate, he actually does do the 1,000 kernel weight formula. He multiplies the weight times the germination and vigour rate, and factors in a 10 per cent mortality rate to determine the actual seeding rate.

They still use the ConseraPak air tank with the Morris drill because it delivers seed through individual seed tubes without the use of towers. McNaughton figures blowing seed through distribution towers can damage seed, reducing germination rates.

WARD CROSS KIPLING, SASK.

With Seed Hawk’s Twin-Wing seed knife, Ward Cross says even 15-inch shank spacing on the seed drill produces an excellent crop on his southeast Saskatchewan farm.

Cross, who farms with his wife, Crystal, and parents, Allan and Julie Cross, has used a Seed Hawk seeding system for the past 10 to 12 years. He replaced an older Seed Hawk 357 Magnum with 12-inch row spacing, with a new Seed Hawk with 15-inch spacing. Twin-Wing puts seed in two rows about three and a half inches apart. A separate knife places fertilizer below and between the two seed rows.

“The main advantage for us is that we were able to go to a wider air drill that could cover more acres and still use the same tractor to pull it,” says Cross. Even though the shanks are 15 inches apart, with the wider seed bed utilization, the actual seed rows are spaced about the same as the single row on 12-inch shank spacing.

Cross may bump up the seeding rate slightly with the new system. He kept wheat and barley seeding rates the same in 2008, but increased canary seed to about 50 pounds per acre, up from about 35 pounds. He increased the oat seeding rate to about three bushels per acre, and kept canola in the 4.5 to five pounds per acre rate.

With the new air seeding system, he also changed fertilizer formulations in 2008. He switched from all granular to using a liquid nitrogen and sulphur blend that is placed between and below the two seed rows. All granular phosphate was included with the seed.

He has followed a direct seeding system for the past dozen years. It involves a pre-seeding burnoff in the spring, unless he’s made a post-harvest treatment on fields the previous fall.

Wheat and barley are usually straight cut in the fall, while oats and canola are swathed on the angle so the stubble helps to hold up the swath.

“I didn’t see any difference in weeds in going to the 15-inch shank spacing,” he says. “The big difference for us is being able to seed an extra 10 feet, with the same horsepower, and probably use less fuel as we cover more ground. The wider shank spacing also appears to be very forgiving in working through trash.”

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

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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