Have you ever watched a pit crew dump fuel into a race car from one of those large, specialized gas cans? In just a few seconds, the fuel gauge is reading full and the car is off again. Wouldn’t it be nice if refilling your air seeder’s commodity cart was as quick and smooth as that?
If you have a loader tractor that can follow you from field to field, it could seem a little more like it. That would allow you to use large, 1,000-pound canola seed tote bags, which can really speed up the refilling operation. “Farm sizes have increased and the speed at which we need to operate has gone up, too,” says Curtis Penner, a farmer and operator of Pedigreed By Penner, a seed dealer at Lowe Farm, Man.
Getting the seed out of the tote and into the cart requires a little more planning than when using small bags. “The disadvantage is you need to figure out how to handle (a tote bag) out in the field,” says Penner — hence the need for the loader tractor.
“It’s less handling, but it involves heavy equipment,” says Leighton Blashko, market development specialist for Bayer CropScience. “You have to have the logistics behind it.” That will probably mean having a helper who can move support equipment from field to field as seeding progresses. But the alternative, frequently refilling the tank on a large air cart from small bags by hand, can leave you feeling like you’ve spent an afternoon at the gym.
There is more than one way to get the job done when using totes. “It all depends on what equipment a person has available in the field,” says Penner. A loader tractor with pallet forks is the machine of choice for most farmers, but there are other options. A field service truck with a boom could be used to lift a tote off a truck or trailer deck and hold it in position over an auger hopper. If the same truck hauls the tote bags, it would streamline the process a little.
And Penner also suggests farmers could do much of the handling right in the farmyard if they have a gravity tank the tote could be emptied into. Then the truck can unload into an auger in the field in the same way cereal grain seed is usually transferred.
The quality of the canola seed will be exactly the same whether it’s supplied in 27 kilogram bags or 1,000 pound totes, notes Blashko. There isn’t any greater risk of seed damage because of the size of container it’s shipped in. “If you have any damage it would likely be from the (cart’s) auger,” says Penner.
With the right equipment, however, you could avoid running the seed through an auger altogether. “A telehandler would be an advantage — or a loader with a high reach,” says Blashko. “Then that seed would avoid an auger.” The tote could be emptied directly into the cart’s hopper. But most producers without access to that specialty equipment will need to empty the tote into the cart’s auger hopper to complete a fill.
And while buying in bulk at a big-box grocery store usually gets you more peanut butter or other things for less money per unit, the same doesn’t apply to canola seed. “The only saving is in labour,” says Penner. The price per pound will be the same in a bulk tote or small bag.
So far, the market demand for canola seed supplied in bulk totes remains relatively small. “Ten per cent would be a ballpark figure,” says Blashko. “We’ve offered them for a few years now, so it’s not an introductory product. The people that like them stick with them, but we’re not noticing rapid growth in demand (for totes).”
Currently, large-scale operators buy most of them, but Blashko says anyone who is looking at ways to improve efficiencies during seeding may want to consider them, especially as the window of good seeding weather effectively gets smaller each year as growers try to cover more acres in the same amount of time. Each tote holds enough seed for about 200 acres, so most farmers could easily make use of that much product.
Because you can’t return opened seed bags, Penner notes you won’t get away from hand-bombing small seed bags entirely. Even if you decide to try totes, your next seed order will need to be a combination of both.
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