Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

Direct Seeding & Fall Seeded Crops Stretch Work Windows - Craig Shaw, Lacombe, AB
Author: Helen McMenamin
Date Created: July 17, 2002
Last Reviewed: July 17, 2002

 Economics drives direct seeding in high organic matter soils
Direct seeding gives Craig Shaw a little less to do in spring so he can farm more land and take on land further from home.
“We’re really pressed for time around here in the spring,” says the Lacombe farmer. “Direct seeding allows us to farm more land and go further afield without getting too far behind. Early crops mean better quality and yield. If you get behind, you spend forever trying to get back to square one.
“When we cultivated in the spring, it seemed May went by in the blink of an eye. We’d cultivate and fertilize so we could seed for a while. Then we’d be caught up and have to cultivate some more. Now, we can just go and seed. And we don’t have to take a whole lot of equipment when we move to the land that’s 25 miles away.”
The other benefit Shaw’s found is that with less equipment, he can keep it in better shape. “Before, it seemed there were always 30 pieces of equipment in the yard, and 15 of them were two days from the scrapyard,” he says. “There was always something we needed to replace. Now, we have fewer pieces of equipment, we can buy better, more reliable equipment. We’re able to go to the field and get the job done.
“We can go earlier, too. We have metric radial duals that give good flotation. It’s hard to get stuck with that big rubber on the tractor. I”d never go back to the old type of tires. This spring was especially late and a lot of traditional seeders didn’t get to the field until May 15th, but we had much less trouble getting going.”
The next challenge Shaw sees is justifying a big tractor.
“We used to run our 365-horse tractor about 500 hours a year,” he says. “We’re down to 300 now and if we could eliminate all cultivation we’d probably be down to 250 hours. It doesn’t make sense to own that tractor. Maybe we should rent one?”

Spread spring workload

Shaw hasn’t seen better crops from direct seeding, but he has found other advantages.
“In our area, in a wet year, conventional seeding probably gives you a better crop,” he says. “In a dry year, direct seeding pans out better. Overall, the systems work out about the same – that’s what I want. If I can get the same crop with direct seeding, why cultivate?”
Shaw usually gets 12 to 14 inches of rain in the growing season and 17 to 22 inches over the year, which keeps his working windows pretty tight.
To spread his spring workload, Shaw dormant seeds as much of his canola as he can.
“I try to get my canola in right at freeze-up,” he says. “We pre-band dry and anhydrous on all our canola land in the fall with the air-seeder. Then, we wait until we’re comfortable that the canola won’t germinate and seed as much of it as we can. Generally, we get about half the canola seeded in the fall and, most years, we can harvest that crop by mid-August.” With the fertilizer in place, Shaw can seed canola quickly in the spring.
“Here, we need canola in by May 10th at the latest, if we’re going to get good yields and miss the fall frosts,” he says. “Fall banding the fertilizer makes it more likely we can get the canola seeded in a short time frame. And, having the fertilizer banded in fall lets me seed shallow and preserve the surface moisture.”
If he can get it in soon enough, the spring-seeded crop yields better than the fall-seeded crop. Broadcasting to get the seed in sooner hasn’t paid off, though.
“We used to seed with the Valmar and harrow it in,” he says. “But often it wouldn’t germinate until mid-May. Drills are much more consistent. We find canola seeded in the last part of April yields 2 or 3 bushel better than fall-seeded crop. But we could figure on an extra 5 bushels from fall-seeding compared to a broadcast crop.”

Winter wheat fits

Winter wheat has become a mainstay of Shaw’s operation.
“I’ve been growing it for five years,” he says. “It helps spread our seeding workload and widens our harvest window. That’s a big thing with our climate.
“Winter wheat’s ripe the first week in August so we can combine in the middle of the month,” he says. “We usually pre-harvest Roundup and then straight cut to widen our harvest window. Even though we have a dryer, I think the Roundup improves the performance of the combine. It cleans up green seeds and weed seeds and it keeps perennial weeds in check.”
Shaw prefers the shorter feed types of winter wheat developed at Saskatoon to those developed for the south, which don’t have the winter hardiness he needs in his environment.
“Lodging can be a problem for us,” he says. “And since all our crop usually ends up in the feed market anyway, varieties like Osprey and Falcon work well for us.”
Getting other crops off early enough to seed winter wheat can be a challenge for Shaw. He usually seeds it after harvesting the fall-seeded canola or peas, although seeding into pea stubble brings some problems.
“We can get such good growing conditions, we can have trouble getting all the vines through the combine,” says Shaw. “In spring, it’s impossible to get through the residue with the drill and if you harrow it, you just make little haystacks. We need just the right conditions at harvest to be able to seed into pea stubble.”
When conditions aren’t quite perfect, Shaw cultivates his pea stubble.
“I’m a strong believer in direct seeding,” he says. “But I’m also a strong believer in what works. If I get in a situation where I’m going to have problems, I’ll do what needs to be done to get the land ready. It’s important to be in the field early.”

Crop sequence

Shaw grows peas as well as canola, but he always keeps two cereal crops between broadleaf crops because sclerotinia’s a big risk in his humid environment.
Last year he added timothy to his crop mix. He worked in partnership with a neighbour who’s a custom hay operator to take off one cut of 3 tons per acre of export quality timothy in the first production year.
“You have to do a lot of little things right for timothy,” he says. “We seeded this crop late in the year with no nurse crop. We can grow timothy here, but sooner or later, you have to spend the money for technology to increase your odds of putting up top quality hay. A super-conditioner would let us cut and bale in two days, but we haven’t paid the price yet.”

Shaw looks closely at any crop that has a seeding or harvest window outside the brief period when farmers in his area traditionally seed or harvest.
“We’re so wet here, and our season is so short, we need to take advantage of anything that gives us a little better odds of getting the job done before it’s too wet to work,” he says. “It’s part of the challenge of trying to stay on top of things. We’re always trying to implement ways to make the farm better – that’s the fun of farming!”