June 22nd, 2024

Ultra-early seeding a cool experiment

By Cal Braid - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 18, 2023.

Herald photo by Cal Braid Graham Collier, strategy lead in cereals and seed treatment for Nufarm Agriculture Inc. spoke about ultra-early wheat seeding this week at the 2023 Farming Smarter conference and trade show.

Graham Collier, strategy lead in cereals and seed treatment for Nufarm Agriculture Inc. spoke about ultra-early wheat seeding at the 2023 Farming Smarter conference and trade show.

Collier, who is just weeks from completing a doctorate in agronomy at the U of A, said that under Brian Beres and Dean Spaner, he’s spent the last seven years on an ultra-early seeding project.

With a focus on increasing crop yields, he talked about potential yield versus realized yield. “We look at altering our management practices or finding a way to synergize our management practices with the environment or with the genetics that we’re using. The yield gap that we see in western Canada really isn’t too bad. If we’re doing the best job that we can do, it’s predicted that we can achieve about 70 to 80 per cent of that potential yield.”

He said western Canada’s soil zones have a potential yield of about four to six and half tonnes of wheat per hectare, or about 60 to 100 bushels per acre. “Right now, we’re achieving about 60 to 70 per cent of that,” he said. “Which isn’t too bad, relative to a lot of the places in the world.” The U of A team worked with an acronym Collier called G.E.M.; genetics, environment, and management. It was the basis of their ultra-early seeding research.

The first change in management tactics was the seeding date. The team wasn’t sure if the genetics of a seed could handle going into the ground at colder temperatures. Would one variety work while many others wouldn’t? Would a seed and plant benefit from capturing more spring moisture and more days of sunlight? Would minimizing exposure to mid-summer heat stress improve the health of the wheat heads?

They looked at three cold tolerant lines of wheat, taking winter wheats and turning them into spring wheats that they hoped would be hardy enough for the cold.

“We seeded based on soil temperature. That’s a key of this system; it’s not a calendar date,” Collier said.

They seeded at zero, two, four, six, eight and 10 degrees celsius at two inches depth at 10 a.m. He said that in spite of a variety of harsh air temperatures, the team did not lose a crop. Their experiment concluded that in the two, four, six, and eight degree soil temperatures, there was a peak in the yield numbers. At 10 degrees there was a fall-off, and at zero it was just barely significantly less than at two degrees.

“Yield is king for us,” Collier said. “We had a nice yield peak between two and eight degrees celsius soil temperatures for planting, which is probably quite a bit earlier than most of us are starting. We had more plants surviving going in at zero, two, four, and six than we did holding off and waiting, which is totally counterintuitive to what we thought we would see.”

He talked at greater length about seeding rates and depths as well as additional management tactics after describing the early experimentation with ultra-early seeding. Farming Smarter has audio and video of the conference and regularly releases new information. Look them up at farmingsmarter.com.

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