Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

Four Spring Planting Tips For Direct Seeders
Author: Murray Green, P.Eng
Date Created: January 24, 2005
Last Reviewed: February 01, 2007

In what order will you plant your crops this spring? They can’t all be planted first!
Crop insurance crop yield data can give you insight as to the order in which you could plant your crops. This data is available for Alberta at Alberta Management Insights on Alberta Agriculture’s Ropin’ the Web, and for Manitoba at its Management Plus Program.
Both management programs show quite consistent results of crop yields based on the planting date for that crop and in various climatic areas of the provinces. For example, canola yields remain good when planted later than other crop types, no doubt a result of quick and strong emergence when the seedbed is a little warmer. This assumes, of course, that direct seeding has successfully maintained good seedbed moisture. On the other hand, barley appears less affected by early planting even though it is likely it will be exposed to spring frosts. Many farmers have adopted earlier planting of malt barley varieties as their experience shows them a greater potential in meeting malting requirements.
How much time is available to plant crops this spring?
The answer to this question may be no easier than how much rain will fall this year! However, one must make plans to complete the planting operations in a reasonable window to achieve the best possible crop yields.
Much depends on how the spring develops in melting the snow cover and warming the soil surface. Then the calendar date takes over. Typically, planting starts any time from April 15 in the southern part of the prairies, to May 1 in the latest areas. Data accumulated from actual on- farm crop yields indicate crop yields will begin to suffer after the middle to third week of May. That gives a planting window of somewhere between 25 to 30 days from start to finish. Long term weather data shows that in Alberta, there is a probability that planting will be possible only 65 to 75 per cent of the available days during this time. That will reduce the available planting days to 16 to 22 actual days in the field, depending on where your farm is located.
Can you plant your farm is this time? The two issues that will answer this is are, “How big is your planting rig, and can you keep it running steadily?”
Is your planter ready for spring?
It is now or never! Some farms in Alberta are only three weeks away from planting their first acres. If one is going to meet the challenge of getting the crops in the ground in a timely manner, the planter, tractor, trucks, and other equipment have to be ready to go. When equipment can’t perform because of maintenance or repairs that weren’t done, or done in time, it is not only frustrating, but also cuts into potential crop yields. This is the part of the crop yield that takes no additional investment to get but depends on your management and equipment performance.
Just one caution before you start to prepare the planter. If the wings of the air drill have been left in the raised position over winter, take a few minutes before lowering the wings. Make absolutely sure there is oil in both sides of the wing lift hydraulic rams. The obvious sign of a problem is oil on the ground or machine frame directly below the rams fittings or drips of oil clinging to the fittings or hoses.
If the locking pins are removed and the wing is pushed over center, but there is no oil in the other side of the ram which must now take up the load, the wing will drop unrestricted causing devastating damage to the machine. Check with your dealer or the equipment representative as to whether or not the ram has a by pass valve that will allow both sides of the cylinder to be filled with oil by simply holding the tractor hydraulic valve open. Take care that the ram isn’t extended against the locking pins, as most pins or their brackets won’t resist the power of the ram.
Use last year’s experience to guide you in repair or set up of your planter for this year.
Pull out the daily planting log from last year and check for the things you wanted to fix for next year. Didn’t keep a log? Right now you may be thinking, “That would have been a good idea!” I hope your memory is better than mine!
A few things to look for:
·    Which seed runs were late coming up? If it was a single run, is that shank and opener in perfect alignment with all the others? If it was a group of runs, was that section of the planter running too deep? If each third or fourth run was late, it is a front to back depth problem or if just the front opener runs, likely the soil depth was increased by extra soil thrown from the adjacent or back rows.
·    Thin plant stand in one or more sections. Too low air flow or too much sag in main delivery lines. Thin or missing individual seed rows. Look for plugging in the final distributor or seed tube.
·     Many plants outside the expected seed rows. Usually too much air flow is blowing seed out of the seed row. Often these seeds are stranded in dryer shallow soil, but will germinate when moisture comes, however, then become a maturity problem.
·    Generally thin stands and many areas of the field with nothing up. This is due to trying to plant too shallow; likely the most common error observed in direct seeding. Crops starting this way are plagued with weed problems and uneven maturity. Except for herbicide tolerant canola, this problem is a candidate for replanting.