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New metering technology helps farmers save

June 10, 2010 -Now is the time of year that growers will notice uneven plant spacing in canola fields, usually a result of the bulk metering systems now in place. But a new metering system from SeedMaster is set to amend that challenge.   


June 10, 2010
By Seed Master

June 10, 2010 –With spring seeding nearly finished and crops starting to grow, many prairie farmers will notice canola plants emerging in clusters of three or four, and large gaps stretching several inches between some seedlings.


This uneven plant spacing is a common and costly problem for grain farmers that often happens because of the way most bulk metering systems distribute seeds, says Lawrence Papworth, project manager with Alberta’s Agriculture Technology Centre in Lethbridge. "The rollers are usually fairly large and they turn slowly, especially for small seeds like canola, so they tend to come off in clusters."


Plants clustered together tend to grow smaller and mature faster than ones that are more spread out because they compete for the same nutrients, says Dr. Guy Lafond, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Indian Head Research Farm. "We do thousands of plant counts every year and I see so many canola seedlings crowded together, and then long gaps with nothing," says Lafond. The end result is a crop that doesn’t grow uniformly, he says, which can be a big disadvantage at harvest.


"If the plants aren’t all at one stage of growth, farmers end up with higher green counts and lower grades that have a huge impact on what their crop is worth," says Norbert Beaujot, P.Eng., a Saskatchewan farmer and engineer who is President of SeedMaster, an air drill and tank manufacturer near Regina.

Uniform Spacing Reduces Seeding Rates

Uneven plant spacing also forces grain growers to increase their seeding rates, says Beaujot, as they try and fill in the gaps along each row to achieve target plant populations. With canola seed costing up to $10/lb for newer varieties – a price he likens to gold – Beaujot says he and his engineering team at SeedMaster have spent the past two years developing new seed metering technology that spaces the high-priced seeds evenly down the row with remarkable accuracy.


"It prevents clusters and gaps and allows farmers to drop their seeding rates by as much as half, saving tens of thousands of dollars on seed while still achieving optimal yields," he explains, noting most people seed canola at 5-to-6 lbs/acre. "As farmers we need to get everything we can out of that seed."

One Roller For Every Seed Row

Instead of using big rollers that distribute seeds into several rows, the new metering system – called the UltraPro Canola Meter – is equipped with a series of narrow, quarter-inch-wide rollers. Each roller drops a steady flow of about 25 seeds per second directly into the delivery hoses leading to each individual row opener, says Beaujot. "So if there are 80 openers seeding 80 rows down the field, there are 80 of these narrow rollers."


"It’s far more precise than bulk metering systems that distribute seeds via air flows that slam them against manifold distribution plates, damaging seeds and randomly dividing them into several different directions en route to the openers," says Beaujot. "You always hope the seed flow splits evenly when it hits the distribution plates, but that’s often not the case."


Beaujot seeded his farm near Langbank, Sask., with the UltraPro Canola Meter this spring and says it consistently spaced the canola seeds three-to-four inches apart. "It’s the same on-frame SafeSeed Individual Row Metering we’ve always put on SeedMaster air drills but we’ve replaced the 18-inch-long rollers with these narrow ones that each meter a single row. They turn five times faster, making it easy to drop our seeding rate down to 2 or 3 lbs/acre while maintaining constant roller speeds and product flow – something that wasn’t possible at such low rates until now."

Extremely Close to Singulation

Beaujot says the new metering system brings SeedMaster extremely close to his ultimate goal of being able to singulate canola and all other seed types. "Singulation means planting seeds one at time in the soil, spaced perfectly apart, as if you were doing it by hand," he explains. SeedMaster is currently testing technology that singulates canola, corn, soybeans and sunflowers all with one machine. Beaujot expects it could be market-ready within two years.


Papworth says SeedMaster is moving in the right direction. "I think there could be quite a yield advantage to singulating small seeds like canola," he says, noting singulation is common with row crops but until now nobody has worked out the technology for grain and oilseeds. "Our work has shown anytime you can space seeds more evenly apart, you’ll get greater emergence and a better crop."


Lafond agrees. He says more accurate metering is the "next frontier" for farmers to achieve gains and new efficiencies on their farms. "Distributing canola seeds more equally in the row should allow producers to reduce seeding rates while maintaining target plant populations and getting better competition against weeds."

Lower Seed Rate Will Save $70,000

Les McGrath seeds 7,000 acres of canola on his family farm near Leroy, Sask. He says if he can cut his seeding rate by a pound with SeedMaster’s new metering system, he’ll save up to $70,000 a year. "Canola seed is expensive. Farmers can just throw 5 lbs/acre into the ground and take the crop that comes. But what Norbert is doing puts money in our pockets."


"It’s all because of the importance of canola," says Beaujot, pointing out that western Canadian farmers were expected to plant a record number of canola acres again this spring.


SeedMaster will unveil the new UltraPro Canola Meter at the Farm Progress Show in Regina on June 16-18. Beaujot adds it can also be used for small seeds like mustard, camelina and some grasses.


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