“ This is the best piece of seeding equipment we ever had, and I’ve been
farming for 50 years,” says Alfred Bechard of Sedley, Sask. He’s talking about the new air drill he used for the first time in the 2008 season.
Bechard’s air drill is one of several brands equipped with independent-link openers. Each opener follows the contour of the field independently of the drill’s main frame. “On the other machines, you always had to level out the frame,” he says of previous seeders he has used. According to manufacturers, the independent linkage allows for more precise and consistent seed placement. And Bechard says his experience last season bears out those claims.
“We went from growing canola at 20 bushels per acre and we’re now around 40 bushels per acre. Most of that is because of seed placement,” says Bechard. Aside from increased yields, Bechard noticed his crop emerged and matured more evenly last year than it did in previous seasons when he used an older air seeder without independent openers.
The other area where Bechard noticed an improvement was with crop maturity. “We straight cut and the crops are all even (at maturity),” he says. “We were able to harvest quicker.”
And that consistency has been achieved despite the fact Bechard moved up to an 88-foot width with his new drill. Prior to that he was using an older machine that was 54 feet wide. Despite the increased width, Bechard says he is using the same tractor and covering 20 acres more per hour. He attributes the easier pull to the design’s ability to maintain a consistent depth setting for all openers, which prevents gouging in uneven terrain.
“It will pay itself back in many, many ways,” he says.
Roger Hoey of Crystal Springs, Sask. agrees with that statement. He also moved up to a new drill with independent openers in the spring of 2008. Now that he’s had a full season to evaluate it, he’s a believer in the independent-link design. He, too, noticed a yield increase in his 2008 canola crop, which he attributes to the new drill.
He says the precise row placement and even emergence has also made scouting fields much easier when looking for weeds. Because he was able to get a good early look at weed populations, he found he didn’t need to apply herbicide for wild oats on some of his land. That is a savings he estimates to be around $35,000. In previous seasons he found it more difficult to get an accurate early assessment of weed populations when using other, less-precise seeders.
Going to a 12-inch opener spacing has provided for better trash clearance, which is proving to be an advantage, as well. “I can see myself going to a 16-inch tall stubble,” Hoey says, which he believes will further improve yields. And the wider spacing may save on fuel costs, too. “I would definitely say it doesn’t pull as heavy as my other drill,” he explains.
Overall, the independent-link opener design has Hoey smiling. “I definitely feel like a master seeder,” he says with a chuckle. “That’s how happy I am with my seeder. In my mind you just can’t bea (the independent-opener system).”
Ken Oliver of Lougheed, Alta., has noticed his new drill pulls easier as well. When he moved up to a drill using the independent-link design, he purchased a machine six feet wider than his previous one, but he kept the same tractor. Despite the increased width, Oliver noticed another advantage. “It cut back on our fuel consumption,” he says. “I’d say (the reduction) was between 10 and 20 per cent.”
Because of the seed placement accuracy of the independent-link openers, Oliver says he may slightly reduce his seeding rate next year. He had been using a higher rate mainly to account for uneven germination with his previous seeder. Now he doesn’t need to compensate for a problem he no longer has.
And Allan Stewart, a producer from Carrot River, Sask., thinks that carries over to fertilizer rates as well. “You could use less fertilizer and get the same results. You’re not wasting it,” he says. Precise placement allows the crop takes full advantage of all the fertilizer applied. “You’re not fertilizing the weeds,” he adds.
“YOU HAVE TO GO SLOWER”
But with all of these producers reporting improvements in efficiency and cost reduction with independent-link openers, is there anything they have to give up to gain these advantages?
“You have to seed about one mile per hour slower with these machines,” says Stewart. “About 4.5 mph is right.”
“It left the field a little rougher,” says Oliver. That is mainly because his previous seeder had a full-width packer that evenly packed the entire field. With the single, precise packing wheel, the field is a little rougher to drive across.
And residue management may be of greater concern for anyone not using a precision system for consistent inter-row seeding. “Because of the design of the shank, straw doesn’t roll off it as easily,” says Oliver. But he quickly adds, he has never had to stop the tractor to deal with a trash problem.
Stewart agrees that because of the new opener design, his fields don’t look the way people have come to expect. “They look a little rougher with a few bunches of straw,” he says.
Stewart recalled having an older farmer come to his farm in the spring and comment on the unusual look of the seeded fields. “He didn’t like the look of them, then,” Stewart says. “But he should have come back in the fall.”
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.