July 24, 2014 Pat Beaujot
Wide row spacing and Yield Goals: 100 bushel Wheat is a Reality!
I was somewhat offended when I read Phil Needham’s article in the March 7 Western Producer calling for Western Canadian farmers to “rethink wide row spacing”.
I have been involved in discussions about wider row spacing since the early 1990s when we began the development of the Seed Hawk. At that time Dr. Guy Lafond was conducting a 4 year study of row spacing vs yield at the Ag Canada Research station at Indian Head. His findings shocked the research and farm community causing his research to be heavily scrutinized. No one could find any flaws in his techniques or his results. Dr. Lafond’s findings are now commonly known across the Canadian prairies, namely that comparing 4”, 8” and 12” row spacing for most of the crops grown on the prairies resulted in no yield difference. This finding moved no-till forward significantly in this region.
Farmers looking to stop tillage could now confidently use a knife opener on wider row spacing allowing them to seed through standing stubble without too much difficulty. Knife openers don’t go through residue as well as disc openers but they give much better soil to seed contact. They warm the soil up for quicker germination and require much less weight to penetrate no-till soil. Narrow spacing in no-till or tilled ground almost always requires a disc opener.
Phil Needham is from the UK and now works in North America as an agronomist. Most of his comments in the article are good advice. If you are shooting for 100 bushel spring wheat, good seed, good residue management, soil testing, possibly a second in-crop application of nutrients, fungicides, micro nutrients etc. are reasonable recommendations and will result in a superior crop. His comments on row spacing and one pass farming are unfortunately mistaken. Phil claims his research shows 7.5” row spacing is ideal for wheat; this is no research that has been scrutinized and published in a journal of plant science, like that of Dr. Guy Lafond’s. This is an observation that is heavily influenced by his European background and should not carry much weight in the Western Canadian Prairies.
I have seen many examples of very high spring wheat yields on the prairies. One of which is James Krawchuk of Blaine Lake, SK. in 2013. James averaged 99 bushels on 500 acres of wheat seeded on 12” spacing with a Seed Hawk twin wing opener. He applied 100 lbs/acre of N as NH3 and another 30 lbs/acre of N in his granular blend which included 38 lbs/acre of P2O5, 15 lbs/acre of K, 20 lbs/acre of S and some micros. All of this was placed at the time of seeding down the fertilizer knife. Nothing was placed directly with the seed.
In Western Europe Phil refers to the mammoth wheat crops grown on his preferred 4.5” spacing. I have seen the heavily tilled soils in Europe that allow the narrow row disc seeders to work and believe me you don’t want that here, or in any healthy no-till operation!! Soil erosion and depletion would very quickly be rampant again. We have a few Seed Hawk drills scattered around Europe all on 10” spacing and growing the same mammoth 10 tonne/ha winter wheat crops as their neighbours but they are spending much less on fuel and tractor hours as we all know about in Western Canada.
It is important to shoot for high yields but be careful not to change what is working for you and your soil to get there. If you do like James and focus on the little things while maintaining good soil and seed stewardship you can achieve the same results at lower costs and with less grief.
This is a good example of looking at the science while also considering what is practical and physically possible. The European science may push for narrow spacing, but the Europeans are much more limited in sunshine than we are on the prairies. There is also a bad habit of disrespecting soil in that region, which is not something we want to revisit here!
I welcome your comments. Please follow me on Twitter at @PatrickBeaujot and access my other blogs on @NOTILLville, @SeedHawk .
Feedback from James Krawchuk’s impressive yield:
“This is James Krawchuk from Blaine Lake. I just want to say thank you to Seed Hawk. I have harvested 500 acres of HRSW with an average yield of 98.6 bushels and acre. Not using any fertilizer with the seed does work!!”
Phil Needham’s article in the March 7 Western Producer:
Dr. Guy Lafond’s research chart: