Higher Cereal Seeding Rates Can Provide Many Benefits


As seeding season draws near, it’s worth taking another look at seeding rates in cereals.

According to Sheri Strydhorst, agronomy research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF), simply put, higher seeding rates equals higher plant populations. And that, in turn, equals more main heads and less tillers.

“The real benefit is increased uniformity in your plant population across your field,” she says. “When you have more plants, they have fewer tillers and that means all of those heads will be at the same growth stage.”

This increased uniformity leads to everything flowering at the same time, making fungicide applications easier, presenting a shorter window for pests such as wheat midge, and less infection time for diseases such as ergot or Fusarium head blight.

Sheri Strydhorst

“If we have early-season disease or frost or insect damage, having more seeds allows you to make sure if some of those are lost in the spring, you’re not at a critically low plant population,” notes Strydhorst. “The other thing is increased competition with weeds. As we get more and more herbicide-resistant weeds, we need to depend on agronomic tools from the system, not just herbicides. The more plant competition you have from your crop, the better your herbicides are going to work.”

Brian Beres, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lethbridge, has conducted scads of seeding rate work on spring and winter wheat. He says besides potential for higher yields, there are secondary benefits that come into the mix. For instance, wheat’s competitive ability.

“We conducted multiple studies on winter wheat and were able to show how important higher seeding rates were in managing weed competition which is significant as you achieve early canopy closure with high plant populations,” he says.

“The result is better control of weeds. Also, a key feature of high seeding rates is replacing those secondary tillers with more main stems per unit area, resulting in a much more uniform crop stage, so you get higher fungicide efficacy. This is also likely to shorten the flowering period as well as days to maturity, so the grower is going to be able to harvest earlier, and as we found last fall, can be an important asset.”

Beres says his emphasis is shifting from the practice of thinking of seeding in terms of a volume or a bulk per unit area, to a spatial density per unit area. So, seeds per square metre or per square foot. “The problem is that the ‘bushels per acre’ rule of thumb resulted in a lot of plant stand variation from one class of wheat to another because kernel size, shape and weight varies considerably and more so now, even within classes, given that kernel visual distinguishability has been phased out as of 2008,” he says.

Brian Beres

“For example, we had many growers back in the old days who, even with winter wheat, went at about 200 seeds per sq. m., or 20 seeds per sq. ft. We were able to show that that needs to be up around 450 seeds per sq. m. We were able to show with those high-yielding classes such as durum or the high-yielding varieties within CWRS, they could withstand the higher density and not lodge.

“As a starting point, the ‘sweet spot’ for winter wheat would be 450 seeds per sq. m.; and for springs across the board, 400 seeds per sq. m., but some high-yielding, strong-strawed spring varieties are definitely going to respond to rates higher than that as well.”

No matter your variety of wheat, Beres stresses the importance of ensuring a good germination rate and good vigour. But equally important is calibration.

“Growers need to think about planting spatially per unit area, such as 40 to 45 seeds per sq. ft., and that they know what their kernel weight is,” he says. “The kernel weight can alter what they think their planting is, it’s pretty significant.”

Becoming Seed Smart: The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Crop Is Check Your Seed’s Health


What’s the best thing you can do for your crops? Is it making sure they get enough water, sunlight and love? What about having the best herbicides and pesticides to protect them from pests? The best seed treatment? Precision seeding equipment?

Well, there’s something more important than that: testing your seed.

About three years ago, Alberta Seed Processors (ASP) began a program called Seed Smart to promote and educate about the importance of seed health and testing your seed. Since then, the goal has remained the same: to get the word out that seed testing is “smart.”

“Seed Smart has only had about three seasons,” says Monica Klaas, general manager of ASP. “The program hasn’t changed much and the Co-op seed and grain processing network throughout Alberta/ BC Peace region have been the catalysts of the program to date. As our program gains momentum, we’re making plans to involve other parts of the crop sector value chain.”

But why should growers care so much about their seed health? Why should they get their seed tested?

“Everything a farmer does on the farm is to unlock the potential of the seed,” Klaas says. “The message of the Seed Smart program is for farmers to know the quality parameters of the seed they plant. If a farmer is using pedigreed seed, asking for the seed analysis from the seed retailer will assist that grower in planning for success. If a grower is using farm saved seed, getting a full seed test from an accredited laboratory will determine seed health parameters.”

Seed Smart recommends testing for germination and Fusarium gramineareum, as a bare minimum. Other tests such as fungal scans, vigour testing, and 1000 Kernel weight are other parameters that are critical indicators of seed health

Klaas says that particularly in this season, growers will want to make seed testing their first priority, as challenging harvest conditions will play a role in seed health.

Submitting a representative sample to the seed lab is of ultimate importance. With a later than normal harvest, farmers are reminded to take a sample from each truck load. Seed Smart has developed a sampling document to help guide farmers to use proper sampling techniques. The idea is to get a snapshot of seed quality of the whole seed lot, (not just what a farmer can access from a bin door).

Seed Smart’s next focus is marketing towards trade shows. Klaas says that they’ve been working on materials that will be available at more trade shows, and that they’re amping up more materials to be put in seed processing facilities.

In addition to Seed Smart marketing materials, there are now Seed Smart scholarships . Currently, Seed Smart awards two scholarships to encourage the next generation of growers to know the quality of the seed they’re planting.

The scholarship targets second to fourth year students enrolled in an agriculture-related field at universities across Canada, with given preference to students at an institution in Alberta. This year, Seed Smart awarded scholarships to Cole Huppertz, a 20-year-old from Westlock, Alberta, studying at Lakeland college, and Kyle Wheeler, a 20-year-old from Strathmore, Alberta, and a student at the University of Alberta.

“One of the things we recognize is that if a grower has been farming for 60 years or so and has never tested their seed, chances are that’s not the demographic that wants to send in seed samples,” Klaas says. “We know that we need to start working and encouraging the next generation to be cognizant about seed health and make it their first step.”

Currently, Seed Smart is staying focused on Alberta, but Klaas hopes that some of their marketing materials can be amended to other locations.

“The message is the same no matter where you farm,” Klaas says.

“We talk a lot in agriculture about sustainability and integrated pest management,” Klaas says. “Arguably, having a seed analysis fits into both platforms — you’re trying to predict an outcome. It’s difficult to try and predict something if you don’t know where you’re starting. Seed analysis often gets lost around the other parameters of crop production, but the Seed Smart program believes it should be the starting point.”

Where on the Web:

Visit the Alberta Seed Processors website www.seedprocessors.ca/seed-smart for resources and tools to help you be Seed Smart.


The importance of treating seed


Whether to seed treat or not is a question that often comes up in the spring. Seed treatment should be looked at as an insurance policy to protect against less-than-ideal growing conditions in the spring.

If a producer has high germinating, vigorous seed planted into warm, moist soil, the crop will germinate quickly and be off to a good start. However, spring often comes in spurts between winter and summer, and using treated seed can help to avoid potential problems.

“Soils warm up only to cool off. Long periods of cool, damp conditions hovering around 5 to 6 C gives plenty of chances for root rots to take hold and kill off the plant,” says Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Early plant and root development is a crucial contributor to the overall yield a plant will deliver in the fall. As the roots go, so do the shoots.”

There are other factors besides weather that can increase the risk of seedling losses. Smuts, bunts, and fusarium are seed-borne diseases, and even low levels on untreated seed can, under the right conditions, take over and cause significant yield loss in the crop.

“Without treatment and with a series of damp cool years, small pockets of infection can spread and become a field-wide disaster,” says Brook. “Treating your seed with fungicide kills off those potential damaging organisms and can protect the seed in the soil for up to two weeks. This protection will also extend to some of the common root diseases that attack the crop at the germination stage such as common root rot and seedling blights. Some seed treatments also have insecticides incorporated to prevent early feeding by insects on the seedlings. Seed treatment for flea beetle in canola is standard and treatment for wireworm in cereals is becoming more common.”

Other farming practices that increase the risk of seedling losses include slow soil warming, limited crop rotation and seed quality. “The majority of seeding done is now zero or minimum till. This is good in so many ways but it also slows soil warming in the spring. Plentiful crop residues insulate the soil surface and keep soils cooler and moister, ideal for slowing down germination and emergence and giving fungi a chance to affect the seedling.”

Another big risk factor, says Brook, is crop rotations with little variety. “A lot of central and northern Alberta producers have moved to a canola-wheat or canola–barley crop rotation. Many diseases will over-winter on crop residues left on the soil surface and provide a primary source of infection for surrounding, susceptible crops for the next year. Reducing the spore source requires burial, which is not done with zero tillage. Blackleg on canola is a good example. Infectious spores are produced on the stubble for two to three years after the crop is harvested. Highest spore production occurs two years after the crop which is a problem with a wheat-canola rotation. Recent surveys of canola stubble show increasing levels of blackleg in the canola. Crop yield losses are also starting to increase as well.”

Seed treatments with insecticide in them are essential for a couple of crops. “As canola is a very small seed and the seedlings take some time to get established and begin to grow, insecticide treatment is required to protect the seedlings from flea beetles. All hybrid canola sold in Alberta is treated with an insecticide because flea beetles are endemic in the province. As well, peas are susceptible to pea leaf weevil, which is expanding through all of central Alberta. Larval feeding on pea nodules in the roots can lead to nitrogen deficiencies and reduced yields. In areas with high pea leaf weevil populations or signs of heavy feeding in previous years, seed treatment for the weevils is a matter of course. Seed treatment for pea leaf weevil is the only effective way to reduce damage from these pests.”

Another factor to consider when applying seed treatment is the application method. “Ideally, you want every seed to be adequately covered by the seed treatment. Some methods are better than others at getting it on each seed. Drip and gravity feed applicators are not good methods for application as they don’t allow for accurate volume control or seed coverage. To improve coverage, you need an even volume of fungicide being applied over the whole stream of seed as it travels up the auger. Use an applicator tip with a known volume output and pressure.”

Modern seed treatments have lower application rates with less physical product being used, notes Brook. “Even if the seed doesn’t have as much colouring, the fungicides are still effective if applied properly. This makes seed treating calibration even more important, as a visual inspection of the seed is no guarantee of good coverage.”

Seed treatment should never be used to replace good seed. Poor, diseased, low germinating seed will still be poor, diseased, low germinating seed with or without treatment. It is insurance and protection, and not a replacement, for good seed quality.

“As with any insurance, seed treatment is a way of reducing the risk to the crop at the important, early stages of growth and establishment. With the uncertain nature of weather in the spring and tight crop rotations, seed treatment can be way of ensuring a healthy, vigorous crop stand, or you can seed into warm, moist, soil. It’s all a matter of timing.”

Seeding canola into dry soils


The Canola Council of Canada offers tips on seeding into dry soils.


More to Seeding Rates than a Bushel and a Peck


When asked about seeding rates, opinions and costs vary between even the closest neighbours. A common phrase heard time and time again is: “Grandpa used to seed wheat at a bushel and a peck, we seed canola at 5 lbs per acre, and peas, well I heard you seed ’em deep!”

When it comes to all crops, whether it is canola, cereals, peas or other pulse crops, ensuring you are hitting target plant densities is not only top priority, it saves you money.

Thousand kernel weight (TKW) or thousand seed weight is a measurement with which most producers should be familiar. It determines the size of seed which varies between not only crop type, or variety but also between seed lots of the same variety, perhaps from the same grower. TKW is needed in order to calculate your seeding rate to ensure you have enough plants, and that you are not exceeding costs.

Knowing the germination rate is the next step. Many labs across Alberta have quick turnaround times for germination and vigour and will also provide a TKW. Vigour, which represents how many germinated seeds will form healthy plants, is a preliminary estimate of mortality. Mortality in peas and lentils tends to be less than cereals and canola, and can be assumed at five per cent (mortality is influenced by seed/soil contact, seeding speed, seed depth, soil conditions etc). The remaining pieces of information required for the calculation is your target plant density and drill/planter row spacing.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has a handy online seeding rate calculator that you can plug the information into, and can also be used for budgeting your seed cost. The calculated information includes the seeding rate in lbs/acre, allowing for simple calibration of drills and planters, as well as a seeds per row foot number. This number allows you to check one foot of your seed row upon emergence and assess your plant stand establishment and may also help back-cast to better calculate mortality.

Why does this matter? Depending on your seed size, your target plant density and seed cost, your seeding cost can vary greatly. When choosing varieties, small seed sizes inherently cost less than larger ones when seeding, providing germination, vigour and mortality are constant. Good agronomic practices including knowing your germination and vigour, seeding at appropriate speeds to moisture ensuring good soil to seed contact in all crops will insure you are making the most of your seed input.

Target plant populations are important, and that is why Alberta Pulse Growers is assessing the age old adage of seeding rates with our Plot to Field research protocol. A penny saved is a penny earned, and in our industry, margins are slim.

Click the link below on the Alberta seeding rate calculator to see the difference TKW, target plant populations, germination and mortality can have on your seed cost when you play with the numbers. Make sure to get the best start to #plant18!

Peas – Target a density of 7 plants per square foot
Lentils – Target a density of 12 plants per square foot

APG taking research from plot-sized to farm-scale

Becoming One with the Machine


The DOT Power Platform is designed to handle a large variety of implements commonly used in agriculture.

This new seeding innovation is one example of how new ideas are transforming precision ag.

Agriculture – like all other sectors – is changing fast, with new technologies and computing power now being employed to achieve things our grandparents wouldn’t believe. One example of these achievements is precision agriculture, and Saskatchewan-based SeedMaster has taken precision ag a step further on its evolutionary path by developing the DOT Power Platform.

The DOT Power Platform is designed to handle a large variety of implements commonly used in agriculture, mining and construction. Its U-shaped frame directly loads implements so that they ‘become one’ with the machine. It can be run by remote control or in completely autonomous mode.

DOT is the brainchild of SeedMaster founder Norbert Beaujot, and it’s one of a long line of innovations Beaujot has dreamed up and brought to reality over his long career. Both his background in farming and his education as an agricultural engineer at the University of Saskatchewan prepared him for this calling.

“As a company, we’re always striving for more efficiencies and profitability at the farm level, and on that continuous quest, we’ve developed quite a few pieces of equipment,” Beaujot explains. “We’ve grown in precision ag, in metering and everything else seeding related. We were the first to build an 80-foot and then a 100-foot seeder, both with high capabilities in metering and other areas of operation.”

Indeed, it was thinking about larger equipment that led Beaujot to come up with DOT.

“I was thinking, how do we regain efficiencies that we lost in going bigger?” he recalls. “It was an evolution of thoughts about this in the beginning. Of course, we’re always hearing about autonomous cars and autonomous buses in the media, which also got me thinking about autonomous agriculture. From having the idea, it was a series of sketches and brainstorming various designs, looking at how one unit can power all the different implements.”

For most of the next two years, Beaujot worked out all the details, everything from how to mount the steering and wheels to where the engine should sit.

“I didn’t want a traditional tractor design of course. The U-shape means DOT can drive ‘into’ any implement made to receive it, and you just have to attach hydraulic hoses and electrical, but someday that might be automatic as well.”

After the U-shape came to him as the best design, the other components had to be fitted, but he’s always really looking for a simple way of doing things, he explains. “I filed the patents pretty early on and to file, you have to work out a lot of details and provide sketches.”

Beaujot decided to place the engine and some other things on one of the side rails, making it possible for tanks and other things to be placed on the other side, and for seeding and tillage equipment to go below the rails. Then he had to scale the unit correctly for efficient operation on large farms.

In terms of autonomous operation on-farm, the first step is to load boundary and field obstacle information into the system. A few seconds later, the DOT software creates a path plan, which is then approved by the farmer and can be altered at any time to address changing field conditions. During actual operation, DOT’s short- and long-range sensors allow it to sense any issues in its path, and if it’s unsure how to proceed, it will send an alert to its farmer-owner.

A prototype DOT unit is busy powering a seeder, sprayer, land roller and grain cart on research fields. In 2018, there will be a limited release of DOT to select farms in Saskatchewan, followed by broader distribution nationally and beyond in due course. Since its launch at the Ag in Motion show in Saskatchewan in July of 2017, it’s not surprising that DOT has received a groundswell of interest inside and outside of agriculture from around the world.

Norbert’s son and DOT marketing and sales manager Cory Beaujot believes the seed-growing industry would benefit from the DOT model of autonomous agriculture in several ways.

“Pre-plotted-out maps of seeded areas dedicated to this variety or that and safe and easy transition between different varieties, are a couple of things that come to me right away,” he says.

Norbert adds: “The way DOT keeps track of everything — the day, weather, plot size, GPS coordinates and so on — it makes it easy for farmers to keep historical records and for researchers to replicate trials. Whether it’s a seed grower or non-seed-growing farmer, they don’t want to lose anything, don’t want to damage seed or waste anything, and DOT also assists with that.”

The Future

Cory notes that food security is of ultimate concern to a huge percentage of the world’s population today and that it’s only going to become more important as we march forward.

“Various aspects of food security are beyond our control — climate, weather patterns, to a lesser degree global politics and so on,” he says. “That said, things like crop genetics, efficiency-enhanced shifts in the food production and distribution systems are under our control. This is where SeedMaster and DOT step in. If we don’t think out of the box, we’re more likely to replicate the inefficiencies of the past. Out-of-the-box thinking shakes things up, ruffles feathers, creates dialogues and leads to innovation and positive change.”

The absence of a good labour source for farms, Norbert adds, is another reason agriculture is going to continue to need innovative thinking.

Canadian futurist Richard Worzel agrees. He believes precision ag systems will become more prevalent because there will be fewer people willing or able to become farmers, and Canada will need more systems that both cut down on labour and increase productivity. He notes that “software programs that can watch for you and alert you, can come up with quantitative analysis based on in-depth analysis of massive amounts of data. DOT combines some of that and these systems will only get more common.”

While he notes systems like DOT are innovative, they’re not a true form of artificial intelligence. Worzel foresee a possible future where farms may have a true AI that a sub-system like DOT reports to when it runs into a problem, instead of reporting to a human being.

As for how he achieves his out-of-the-box thinking, Norbert gives much of the credit to his ability to simply dwell on a problem.

“In the first two years, there were very few days I didn’t think about it, some days three hours and some days 11 hours,” he says. “A lot of people would get bored. I don’t consider myself smart beyond the average, but I have the ability to focus intensely on a mechanical problem and come up with solutions.”

He adds: “I’ve read that Einstein would think and think and not get very far and go fishing and it would be there. So sometimes taking a break really works well. But when the subconscious mind comes up with something that seems complex, I’ve found it’s really a bunch of simple thoughts that come together.”