Fields in much of Southern Saskatchewan still saturated late into October posed a problem for anyone trying to seed winter wheat. Equipment manufacturer Salford thinks one of its implements, a vertical tillage tool, provides the ideal solution to exactly that problem. But not in the way you might expect.
Jim Boak, sales manager for Salford Group, wrote to me in late September to explain: “I feel quite strongly, Scott, that if the western wheat farmer adopted vertical planting practices this fall he would get a good portion of his winter wheat planted even in these wet conditions. I am also quite sure once they tried it they would never go back to the hoe drill planting system.”
- View the Grainews gallery: Seeding with a Salford I-200
Vertical planting involves using a vertical tillage implement as a seeder.
To put Boak’s claim to the test, Tri Star Farm Services of Emerald Park, a Salford dealer, set up a 40-foot Salford I-2100 vertical tillage implement mated to a 725 bushel, four-compartment, tow-between Salford seed cart for field trials south of Regina. Grainews was there to see it put to work.
According to Boak, Salford’s vertical tillage implements have been involved in seeding trials since 2006, and the results have been consistently impressive. But the Tri Star trials in October are the first time they’ve been carried out in on the Canadian Prairies.
Tri Star’s demo unit was equipped with the standard product delivery lines and distribution towers used on Salford seed drills, only the openers are unique to the vertical tillage implement and are positioned behind each coulter set on 7-1/2-inch spacings.
“Everything is standard except for the openers,” says Kellen Huber of TSFS. “They’re designed especially for this (the I-2100).”
Instead of using coulters with different wave patterns on the rear, the I-2100 set up for seeding used the same 13-wave coulters on both the front and rear rows to create a narrower seed trench.
“We went to all 13-wave blades instead of 13 on the front and eight on the rear, because it (the 13-wave blade) makes a one-and-a-quarter-inch (wide) trench,” Huber adds. “The eight-wave makes a two-inch trench. We’re blowing seed down right behind the coulter of the unit. We have the harrows set at a gentle angle and the rollers just firm it (the seedbed) down.”
During the field trial, the I-2100 was pulled at 7.5 m.p.h. and set to a working depth of two inches.
Aside from helping dry out the saturated field surface while placing seed and fertilizer in the sticky clay, the I-2100 also incorporated some residue and helped smoothen out the surface, which were some of the side benefits Huber expected to see during the field trial.
Those additional benefits are among the reasons at least one crop consultant, Phil Brown, known locally in Marion, Indiana, as “The Wheat Doctor,” who specializes in wheat production, has been encouraging all his farmer customers to consider using a vertical tillage tool when seeding winter wheat.
“It does a marvellous job of smoothing the field, working out compaction problems and getting our fertilizer and wheat worked in at the same time,” says Brown.
But most of his customers generally use an alternative method to place the seed. After making a standard tillage pass with an unmodified vertical tillage implement, they simply use good-quality fertilizer spreaders to broadcast the wheat and fertilizer onto the field surface. Then, they make another pass with the vertical tillage implement to incorporate them.
“Vertical till does a great job of grabbing the dirt, the wheat and the fertilizer throwing it up in the air stirring it and firming it back up perfectly level so I have no tire tracks,” he explains. “I have no variations in my field. Where the (field seeded with a) drill still has tractor tracks and the old combine tracks I’m trying to bite through. In that first pass you want to work it hard, get it pretty deep so you can control the depth of that second pass to about four inches.”
While four inches sounds extraordinarily deep for seeding, Brown says experience has taught him that when incorporating fertilizer while tilling at a four-inch depth most ended up buried no more than two inches deep.
“I found if you work chemicals in four inches, 90 per cent were in the top two inches,” he says. “And the same thing is happening with wheat. If you work it four inches deep, 90 per cent of the wheat is in the top two inches. The average will be about an inch, right where I want my wheat.”
But what will that variation do to emergence and plant density?
“What I want to have in the fall is three-leaf tillers,” he continues. “Three leaf tillers have the largest heads (at maturity). If I have a too-deep one (seed), my solution to the problem is not seven inches away. It’s an inch and half away. If I use a drill and I have a damaged row, the answer to fill in that gap is in the next row. As I look at what I finish with (when broadcasting and incorporating), it looks more like a hay field. It’s just solid (rather than spaced rows).”
Originally, Brown decided on the vertical tillage option as a last resort to get a client’s winter wheat seeded, but the results were so impressive, it’s now become his preferred seeding method.
“One of my farmers got rid of his drill about six years ago. We started vertical tilling, double spreading it and vertical tilling again because we didn’t have a drill. That’s how we got started. We found we don’t need any more seed and our yields are very competitive.”
“It went from the rescue solution, to I have probably 7,000 or 8,000 acres this year that are going to be vertical tilled.”
And Brown thinks getting seed in the ground earlier using a vertical tillage implement method rather than waiting for fields to dry out and use a conventional drill gives the crop a head start that leads to better yields.
“The earlier the wheat is planted in the fall, the bigger it gets, the larger root mass it gets, the more tillers that get to three leaves, the higher likelihood of a big yield. It is very consistent,” Brown says.
“I can vertical till that field, and re-vertical till that field again before I can plant (with a drill). If that loses the five day wait until that drill is ready to run in good conditions, then I would rather have it vertical tilled.”
To get a good idea of how well a broadcast spreader is distributing seed, Brown recommends making three or four test passes over the same 50-foot section of a field. Uneven spread patterns are much easier to see when there is more seed lying on the ground.
But no matter how you get winter wheat seeds into the ground, Brown believes scouting the crop to monitor its progress and managing it correctly is really the key to filling a combine hopper. “Managed vertical tilled wheat can be very successful,” he says.