Pre-Season Tips to Ensure Seeding Success

Plan for 2022 according to market volatility, logistics, inputs and supply chain constraints.

By Colleen Halpenny

As Prairie producers gear up for a strong 2022 growing season, optimum seeding is key to getting off to a solid start.

From proper equipment maintenance and ensuring soil health, to weed control and seed selection, we’ve compiled a handful of early-season ideas to ensure success and boost yields.

Prepare your equipment

Before you even head to the field, is your drill up to the task?

Doug Moisey, Pioneer Hi-Bred agronomist with Corteva Agriscience, cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining your equipment in advance so that it’s ready to go as soon as you are. “If you need to be in the field Tuesday, pulling the drill out Monday isn’t going to work,” he says.

Relying on factory settings, failure to check your fan systems are running properly, whether rollers are level, or whether tire pressure is even across the entire drill can make a huge difference on packing for crops like canola. Moisey emphasizes that even wearing is critical to ensure even distribution.

Being conscious of the length of time it will take to receive new equipment or replacement parts, working with your dealers as early as possible will set you on a successful path compared to using poorly functioning equipment that could cause faulty seeding rates.

Always remember to ask, what can your equipment do? What do you need it to do?

Ensure your soil fertility

One of the best initial steps producers can take is testing soil fertility, according to Joel Bagg, forage development specialist with Quality Seeds.

Close up of Seedlings in dirt
    Justine Cornelsen photo

“Soil testing allows for better management of varieties and expectations based on what is readily available for new establishments,” he notes. “This will also assist you in choosing what top-dress options are going to work towards your desired yields. As producers across the country watch input prices rise, being mindful of how to utilize and budget is going to be integral for this crop season.”

When direct seeding forages on soils that require phosphate fertilizer, Bagg says that establishment can be improved by band placement of Monoammonium Phosphate (MAP) starter fertilizer. Additional fertilizer can be broadcast and incorporated before seeding. If sulphur is required, sulphate can be applied at establishment or elemental sulphur applied the previous year.

Phosphate levels can be hard to properly quantify in the spring. “Typically, in colder soils you may test at X level, but it’s not readily available. Find the balance to not kill your seeds as they germinate, but make enough available in the first 15 days to boost emergence,” advises Moisey.

If nitrogen seems to be an issue, Jeanette Gaultier, senior technical service specialist with BASF, suggests utilizing pulse crops to help clarify the soil. “With their ideal adaptability to Prairie conditions, inputs such as peas and lentils offer much in terms of soil fixing properties with abundant yields,” she notes.

Acreage utilization for pulse crops has been on the rise; Gaultier expects it to continue trending upward.

Weed-free & packed well

A proactive approach to weed control is integral to ensuring your seedlings aren’t smothered. Perennial weeds should be eliminated before seeding. “Avoiding deep tillage that brings dormant weed seeds to the surface where they will germinate is key,” advises Bagg.

Gaultier suggests producers consider zone spraying fungicides, especially in a dry year where it doesn’t make sense to spray the whole field. “Focus on just the primary zones and get increased return on investment while removing those moisture-draining weeds,” Gaultier counsels for a successful fall harvest.

Now that you’ve outlined your plan, make sure you’re not just planting, but also packing those seeds. High seed-to-soil contact is critical, yet Bagg says it’s something that many growers don’t do properly.

“Packing the soil after planting results in more rapid and even germination, particularly during dry weather and on lighter soils,” he says. “Where seedlings are seen emerging first in tire tracks and headlands, this indicates insufficient packing was done. If necessary, pack before seeding in addition to packing after the drill.” Extra time spent making that seed to soil contact is well worth the time rounding the fields.

A loose, lumpy seedbed dries out quickly and lumps make the uniform emergence of young seedlings difficult. A firm, level, clod-free seedbed is very important for optimal seeding depth and seed-to-soil contact. Soil should be firm enough at planting for a footprint to sink no deeper than nine millimetres, or 3/8 inch.

Bagg emphasizes that timing is everything. The most reliable time to seed forages is early spring. Seed as early as a seedbed can be properly prepared to increase the chances of adequate moisture during the critical germination and early growth period. “Seedings completed in late June and July are usually much less successful.”

Choose your varieties

“They don’t call it the Prairies for nothing!” remarks Garry Vanderpost, a producer from Osler, Sask. With many recent years lacking proper moisture, “drought conditions are always in the back of your mind when making seeding plans.”

Vanderpost says he’s “taken best advantage of no-till cropping for moisture preservation and to decrease wind erosion. The best chance of germination comes from not seeding too deep, giving the plants every opportunity to capture any moisture they can.”

With a sharp eye on your growing season’s weather, he’s cautious of the frost-free days available and notes it “can be quite limiting on varieties.” Variety selection should first consider the target market and secondly, which variety is best suited to your region. With yield potential being set when plants emerge, the rest of the growing season looks to protect that yield. Matching varieties to your region’s average precipitation, disease pressure, frost-free days and soil fertility will optimize yield potentials.

As a consistent source of data to check the regional suitability of grains, Vanderpost suggests referencing the Canadian Grain Commission. “There’s such science in growing crops in today’s market. They lay out yields, test weights, per cent hull, per cent plump seed, maturity, height, resistance – the list goes on. Just because something worked for your neighbour (it) doesn’t exactly translate to the same yields for you.” Fact-checking seed guides against yearly trial data by a third-party source can go a long way in providing variety confidence.

Based on eight years of seeding depth research, the BASF Agronomic Excellence team’s general recommendation for canola seeding is three-quarters of an inch, but with tougher conditions, growers have been challenged with this as they search for moisture. Gaultier notes that InVigor canola can be pushed to seed at one- to one-quarter-inch depth and still have positive effects on emergence and yields. However, attempts at deeper seeding hindered emergence and overall, reduced yields. “New innovations and techniques are all about learning how to push, without going beyond the limits,” says Gaultier.

Capture your growing season

As noted by Larsen, Beres, Blackshaw and Graf in a 2018 article published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science, winter cereals provide distinct advantages over spring cereals. Utilizing winter cereals exhibited “higher grain yields while limiting weed pressure, soil erosion, and exposure to diseases and insect pests, which are regularly serious threats to spring cereals.”

Pea Harvesting
    Alberta Pulse Growers photo

Capturing the potential of winter cereals is built around ensuring the crop survives harsh western Canadian winters. During their studies they found most critical to this system is uniform plant stands reaching optimum growth stage to maximize cold tolerance and no-till production systems that maintain insulating snow cover using stubble from a previous crop.

Statistics Canada data from 2017 noted the advantageous yield differences when comparing spring versus winter cereals. From 1976, winter wheat in Prairie provinces yielded 18 per cent higher than spring seedings. Over the time period of 1923 to 2004, they calculated that fall rye yielded approximately 27 per cent more than spring rye fields.

Interestingly, Statistics Canada noted that only two per cent of the total acreage planted in Prairie provinces from 1991 to 2017 was utilized for winter cereals.

Quality over quantity

Justine Cornelsen, agronomic and regulatory services manager with BrettYoung, advises that a targeted plant population goal should always be calculated.

Close up of Budding Seedlings
    Justine Cornelsen photo

“Determining a target plant population takes into consideration seeding rates, plant emergence, survivability, field conditions, and other risk factors. Achieving a uniform plant stand is always a goal to help set the season up for success,” she states.

Cornelsen advises the target plant population for canola is five to eight plants per square foot. “This range is considered optimal for canola, as thinner plant stands require more management, and higher risk, to achieve 100 per cent yield potential. Thicker stands may achieve 100 per cent yield potential, however at a much higher seed cost.” This leads to a lower return on investment for your inputs.

Moisey sets a benchmark with his producers and guides to, “look at 70 per cent of survival rate for a base and then adjust based on your field fertility and overall crop management.”

The bottom line

2022 is the year farmers should have a plan A, plan B and plan C given market volatility, logistics, inputs, and continued supply chain constraints.

Gaultier remarks, “while these constraints can feel limiting and overburdening, there are many opportunities through new product launches and innovations to the marketplace to arm farmers with the tools they need to succeed.”

Incorporation of new or previously grown crops can offer additional market stability or increased value of on-farm feeding uses.

“We can’t continue to crop the same way our grandparents or parents did,” notes Vanderpost. He says instead that it’s about “increasing rotations, wider range of varieties, protecting against pest invasions, and learning from those around you.” BF

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