Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

Direct Seeding Creates Opportunities For A Farm In Transition - Kevin James, Castor, AB
Author: Sandra Taillieu
Date Created: December 15, 2006
Last Reviewed: December 15, 2006

Farming is a family business for Kevin James and his wife Cindy. They have raised three children near Castor, Alberta, in the heart of dryland farming. Theirs is a farm in transition to the next generation. The move to a direct seeding system has been part of huge changes taking place in the last five years on the James’ farm. “We want a future for all of our children,” says Kevin, “and we want to help create an opportunity here for them on the farm.” It is this motivation that has governed many of the decisions the James’ have made in their farming operation. 

Kevin James with his modified air drill

Prior to 2002, the James family farmed 2500 acres and ran 100 head of cattle. Their seeding system was three passes including banding fertilizer, seeding and harrow-packing. “In 2002, we started direct seeding with our air seeder which reduced the workload down to one pass pre-seed burn-off and a one pass seeding operation,” said Kevin. “This allowed us to expand our land base to 3500 acres. “In 2003, our daughter Tara married and started farming. Along with her husband Greg, she took over half the cattle herd and we sold the remaining half. “In 2004, our son Paul returned to the farm with an Ag Mechanics diploma from Olds College and 8 months of work experience with MacDon. This prompted further expansion to a seeded acreage of 6200. “In 2006, Tara and Greg decided to grain farm and our farm has expanded again to 7100 acres.” 

“We had delayed upgrading our equipment through several years of drought and grasshoppers,” Kevin explains. “When Paul returned to the farm, we knew it was time to make some investments in equipment.” These investments would be the key in both the James’ expansion plans and their change to a direct seeding system. “We started working with Reduced Tillage LINKAGES agronomist Rick Taillieu who helped us access lots of good information,” says Kevin. “We decided to go ahead and co-operate on a demonstration of various seeding equipment on our land. We studied that field and we really liked the machines that left the least amount of disturbance. We liked the Bourgault but we also liked a couple of features on the John Deere. We wanted to reduce our tillage as much as we could without going to a disc drill because we didn’t want the maintenance. In the end, we decided to retro-fit the Bourgault mid-row banders onto a John Deere air drill. 

Bourgault mid-row banders mounted on a John Deere 1820 air drill

We had seen a picture of this modification, so we knew it could be done. Paul masterminded the alteration to make a John Deere drill into the seeder we use today. The change from 37 feet of John Deere air seeder to a 53 foot John Deere air drill made a big difference. “Last summer, we purchased a high clearance sprayer which we use in addition to the Computa sprayer we had before. We also upgraded one of our two John Deere self-propelled combines and put on chaff spreaders. This was a lot of investment at one time for our farm but it was required in order for us to expand our operation. By direct seeding, we now have the capacity to handle more acres, even with the same amount of labour.”

The James’ cropping choices are influenced both by marketing and agronomic opportunities as well as a need to make the best use of the equipment and time they have. “We grow canola, peas and wheat on our farm,” says Kevin. “Barley isn’t a great choice for us because we are in a drier area. We’ve tried triticale but we had difficulty marketing it. One crop we think has good potential for our farm is winter wheat.” “We need to target getting 25-30% of our acres harvested by the 1st of September in order to cover the acres we farm with our current machines,” says Kevin. “Winter wheat may be able to help us to do that.” “We tried a little Polish canola because we wanted a crop that we could harvest early enough to get some winter wheat in the ground. I think winter wheat is going to be a good fit in our cropping system. “Our experience growing Polish canola was fine but not great. The last two years we decided to grow a high erucic acid rapeseed on contract instead. We seeded this short-season canola early and hope to take it off in time to seed winter wheat. This year, we have 600 acres of winter wheat in on our canola stubble.” Altering their cropping system to include a winter crop is one way the James’ are hoping to spread their workload. “It is challenging at harvest time to be seeding and harvesting at the same time,” says Kevin, “But if we work out the logistics, it definitely will take the pressure off next year.” 

Harvesting canola & seeding winter wheat in 2005

Kevin James is happy about the changes in his farming system: “With our no-till drill, we are able to have superior trash clearance to anything we’ve had in the past,” he says. “We straight cut and leave at least 1 foot of stubble on our wheat. We trap more snow this way and we utilize our moisture much better than we did before. The stubble also provides protection for canola and pea seedlings in the spring. Leaving the straw on the land has really helped our organic matter and I can see it will benefit our soil in the future.” “Years ago, crops used to really grow well on the land where we cleared off trees and brush,” remembers Kevin, “I’ve never thought there was a way to repeat that, but with no-till, I really believe we can slowly start to improve our soil.”

Kevin and Cindy’s youngest son is in high school: “Craig also really likes the farm,” says Kevin. “I’m hoping my children will have the opportunity to take over the farm entirely in a few years, if that is what they choose. I’d like to farm actively until Craig is ready to make his decision.” “I am excited about what we are doing,” says Kevin. “With no-till, I can see nothing but opportunity ahead for our family farm.”