According to the president of a Canadian seeding equipment manufacturer that offers both air seeders and planters, canola growers shouldn’t walk away from air drills
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion among Prairie farmers about the potential advantages of seeding canola with a planter. Many have tried it, and there are some ongoing trials looking to evaluate the differences between using that implement and an air seeder. But Pat Beaujot, president of Saskatchewan-based Seed Hawk, an air seeder manufacturer, thinks air seeders should still be the implements of choice for canola seeding.
At first glance it may seem Beaujot could have a bias because his firm was founded to manufacture and sell air seeders, but his company is now working with its Swedish partner, Väderstad, to offer that firm’s high-speed planters to western farmers who grow row crops. So he does stand to gain no matter which way the trend goes. And offering that dual line of equipment may actually give him a unique perspective. Here’s what he had to say when Grainews asked him to weigh in on the planter-versus-air seeder debate.
“We sell planters now too,” says Beaujot. “Planters are designed for seeding row crops and they’re well designed for what they do. But I’m kind of coming at this from is it the right thing for a farmer to do to buy a planter to seed canola?”
Beaujot has heard the debates and doesn’t see an advantage in using a planter for canola. “I think it can be done with some success,” he explains. “But I’m still questioning the thinking behind it. There’s still the issue of how are you going to get your fertilizer on with a planter? The question I ask is if Seed Hawk came out with a double-disc opener for seeding canola that didn’t have fertilizer placement capacity, how many do you think we’d sell? Yet, people are looking at planters to seed canola.”
“Are you going to fall band fertilizer? I think the research supported side banding is even better than fall banding, and farmers have moved toward more efficient fertilizer use. If they have to go back and put fertilizer on and then seed, what is the extra cost of that?”
He doesn’t buy the idea that planters offer more accurate seed placement. “There was some research done a few years ago in Manitoba that compared canola plant counts from a planter compared to an air seeder,” he says. “But I looked at the details of that research and most of the air seeders were not independent depth control air seeders. Certainly a planter would get a much better plant count than any of those machines. I don’t think that research is valid today because most farmers are seeding canola with air seeders that have independent depth control.”
Modern air seeders with independently-linked openers can give planters a run for their money on placement accuracy he believes. “I don’t think we’d come out too far apart. Certainly they (seeds) wouldn’t be spaced apart perfectly like a planter would, but we’d get the plants per square foot as good as the planter would.”
Some farmers who’ve chosen to experiment with planters have included evaluating very low seeding rates, which can be done accurately with a planter because they can singulate seeds. But Beaujot notes today’s air drills are capable of seeding at very low rates, too, even lower than what is commonly applied. But like many agronomists, he cautions that no matter what implement farmers use to seed canola, there is a risk to crops seeded at minimum rates if bad weather or pests become a problem.
“Some guys selling planters are telling farmers they can cut way down on seeding rates, but I think you have to be careful with that,” he says. “There are a lot of things that can affect your plant count in a hurry. It came to a point where we had some (people) going down to about two pounds per acre to get the ideal seven plants per square foot with a Seed Hawk. But then we came to, I think it was, 2008. We had an early spring and farmers seeded canola early. Then we got a bunch of frost and lost a lot of plants. So our recommendation now is to keep the rate around that four-, 4-1/2-pounds-per-acre range, depending on the seed.”
“If you’re right on the edge of the minimum plant count, which you can do with a planter or a Seed Hawk, you save a lot of money on seed, but you’re taking on a lot of risk to losing some plants to flea beetles and frost.”
The knife-style openers Seed Hawk and other brands of air seeders use create an advantage in promoting early germination, says Beaujot, something that’s important on the prairie. “When we started Seed Hawk we looked at the disk and knife openers that were out there. We saw the disc openers don’t warm the soil up enough in our cold conditions in the spring to get good germination. And the maintenance on discs is more than on knife openers.”
Beaujot says knife openers can also seed into moisture deeper down in the soil without placing canola too deep, something the discs on a planter can’t do. “In dry conditions, you may have to seed an inch and a half deep to get down to moisture,” he explains. “With a knife opener we create a seed trench, so we can seed only three-quarters of an inch and still get to that moisture. I think people forget that sometimes.”
And planters tend to weigh much more per foot of working width that an air seeder. “If you want a no-till planter you have to have a lot of weight there for those discs to cut,” Beaujot says. “That’s a waste of fuel to me (to pull). I’d rather put that weight into the cart and have more cart capacity than have that weight on the drill.”
For those growers who are adding corn or soybean crops to their rotations, Beaujot thinks buying a smaller planter just for those crops makes more sense than buying one to use for them and canola as well.
“I don’t think farmers here are going to switch whole hog into corn and beans,” he says. “I can see corn coming, and there’s money to be made. But I think it will require slightly different thinking for corn. We’re working with Väderstad on an eight-row planter that will go faster than a standard planter using a smaller tractor. That planter will probably satisfy guys starting to grow corn for a long time.” †