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Should a planter be your next canola seeding implement?

During Ag Days at Brandon, one Manitoba farmer discussed the results of his experiments with a planter and lower seeding rates for canola

Through the summer and fall of 2011, articles and discussions of using a planter to seed canola at a lower rate than conventional rates intrigued us,” Perry Chapman, a farmer from Virden, Manitoba, told an audience at Ag Days in Brandon. “We realized it was something we had to try for ourselves,” he continued.

Chapman was one of three growers on a panel discussing canola-seeding trials using a planter.

Lower seeding rates

The possibility of better results in canola fields at lower seeding rates with a planter is one of the most talked-about concepts in oilseed production across the Prairies.

Planter use was new to Chapman, and selecting the best one for his needs required doing some homework. The Chapmans decided on a used John Deere DB60 planter, but had to upgrade it to better match canola planting requirements. “At the time, John Deere was the only 47-row planter with a 15-inch spacing we were aware of.”

The list of upgrades made to the Chapmans’ DB60 is long; it included adding liquid fertilizer runs. “The planter was in our shop for about a month by the time we got everything done,” he said. “For our liquid starter, we originally planned on mounting tanks on the planter, but it did not need more weight, so we mounted twin 400-gallon tanks on our 385 Quad (tractor).”

To start with, he sowed 500 acres with Clearfield canola at a seeds-per-acre rate of 260,000, that works out to about 3.411 pounds. The rate was then reduced to 240,000 seeds, 3.148 pounds. “At harvest, these fields averaged between mid to high 20s, which was one of our highest yields this year,” Chapman said. “When we switched to the Invigor 5440 seed, it had a 1,000-kernel weight of 5.8 grams and a seed germ of 98 per cent. So we dropped the population to 220,000, which was approximately 2.813 pounds per acre.”

The majority of his remaining fields were planted at the 2.813 pound rate. “These later-seeded fields only yielded in the low twenties,” he explained. “But we attribute some of the yield loss to pod shatter from excessive winds that some of earlier (seeded) fields did not encounter.”

But even with the extensive modifications made to the DB60 planter, Chapman said he still didn’t have a one-pass seeding implement, so the crop was top-dressed with nitrogen during the growing season. And to get a handle on what, if any, difference the planter operation made to yield compared to an air drill, he set up a side-by-side trial, using the DB60 planter for one plot and his Bourgault 3310HD air drill set on 10-inch spacings for the other. Invigor L150 seed was selected for this experiment.

“The planter seeded at 2.837 pounds an acre, at 220,000 plants per acre, and the seeder was at 4.5 pounds an acre, about 345,000 plants” he said. “Unfortunately some heavy rains early in the season compromised the comparison. In the areas that weren’t flooded out, we observed the wider spacing did take up to a week longer to cover up the ground, but we didn’t see extra weed pressure as a result. It also seemed that the canola seeded with planter didn’t seem to be lodged as bad as the canola seeded with the air seeder.”

Unfortunately, he couldn’t obtain any harvest data to compare yields due to severe weather.

The Chapmans also decided to look at low seeding rates, so some plots were set up to test seeding down to 100,000 plants per acre.

“In our seed population trials, we used Invigor 5440 seed and had strips starting at 100,000 plants per acre and went up in increments of 20,000 to 260,000 plants per acre,” he said. “With the 220,000 and the 100,000 side by side, the 100,000 actually looked better for the first four to five weeks. As time went on the visual difference disappeared. As (more) time went on you could see the split again, as the higher population matured earlier, probably five to seven days.”

Unfortunately, bad weather struck again. High winds blew his canola swaths around damaged these plots; the resulting yield data couldn’t provide any definite answers on yield differences.

“To sum up our first-year experience with precision planting canola, is that it is possible,” he said. “As far as yield benefits with lower seeding rates, we hope to have some answers in 2013.”

But one of the things Chapman said he did learn was that becoming familiar with using planters has a steep learning curve.

“For farmers already familiar with planters, setting up to plant canola is a very small hurdle,” he said. “For someone who has only run an air seeder for the last 20 years, there is a lot more information to absorb. A planter makes an air seeder seem pretty low maintenance.” †

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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