As Abe Unrau converts long-time pasture and hayland to annual crop production he has developed a one-pass seeding system that is not only economical, but works in all kinds of field conditions.
Whether it is the sandy soil at his north-central Saskatchewan farm near Parkside or the heavier clay soil he has further north near Debden, the Ezee-On air seeding equipment outfitted with Technotill openers works through all types of field conditions.
“ When I can direct seed canola into sod and get a 40 bushel canola crop, as I did in 2013, that’s pretty respectable,” says Unrau, who along with his wife Judy crop about 2,500 acres of grain and oilseeds. “In a conventional system I don’t know how many passes I would have to make to disc that sod and then cultivate to prepare a nice seed bed. With Technotill I can spray out the hay field or pasture in the fall, and then seed directly into the sod the next spring with one pass.
“ Before we went to this Technotill system my wife use to put down the anhydrous ammonia , then I would seed and then my wife would follow behind and do the harrow/packing — now she is out of a job.”
This past growing season, 2014, was the first year the Unraus did not run cattle on their long-time mixed farming operation west of Prince Albert. For many years they ran a 350 head commercial cow-calf operation and cropped about 1,500 acres of grain. About three to four years ago they began phasing out of the cattle business to just focus on crop production. As the herd was downsized hay and pasture land was brought into annual crop production.
For the past seven years Unrau has used a 40-foot wide Ezee-On air seeder outfitted with the Technotill opener/seeding system, set on 12 inch row spacing. The cart has a 175 bushel ground-driven air tank. “Ezee-On is a simple, well built machine with very few moving parts and works well for the amount of land we are farming,” says Unrau. “It was a very affordable way for us to get into direct air seeding.
“Whether we are converting hay and pasture land to annual cropping, or seeding into stubble, the Technotill system works equally well,” says Unrau.
To convert hay and pastureland his usual process is to spray the field at the end of the growing season — sometime in September or October — with a 1 ½ litre rate of Roundup Transorb. He leaves the field until spring and then comes in with the Ezee-On air drill and seeds directly into the sod.
“I usually go with canola the first year I am converting grass to annual cropping,” says Unrau. “I go with a Roundup Ready variety and that way if there is still some grass coming back it can be controlled. We have ¾ inch wide single chute openers on the Technotill system. It is ideal if you have moisture in the ground or a rain just before seeding — it really works nicely in sod. With that narrow opener it just makes a slit through the grass. It works well even when it is dry, but a bit of moisture makes it smoother.”
Depending on the field and sod conditions, Unrau will run the opener up to 1 ½ inches deep to get canola seed placed into soil just below the layer of sod roots. With the Technotill system seed is placed in the seed row, followed by a packer plate that packs one-quarter to three-eights of an inch of soil on top of the seed. Even though the seed is placed 1 ½ inches deep, it really only has that quarter inch of soil on top.
Some soil does fall loosely back in onto the seed row as the seeding system moves forward. Unrau says with sandy soil at the home farm at Parkside he travels a bit slower to avoid too much soil falling back into the seed row, while with heavier clay soils 40 miles north at the Debden farm he can travel at a faster seeding speed.
With a single chute system Unrau can’t apply all granular fertilizer in one pass . In previous seasons he has placed some granular fertilizer with seed, while a separate tube places anhydrous ammonia slightly above and to the side of the seed row.
The past couple years he has discontinued using anhydrous ammonia and uses liquid fertilizer as a top dressing for the crop. “I like to apply about half the liquid fertilizer at time of seeding and then top dress with liquid fertilizer later to apply the second half,” says Unrau. “That way with a single chute system I don’t have to worry about applying all fertilizer in one pass, and by splitting the application it gives me time to assess the growing season. If it looks like we’re having a dry year I can cut back on the amount of liquid nitrogen applied later.” The liquid nitrogen top dress is applied with a dribble bar after the crop has emerged and has been sprayed .
Unrau says the seeding system he’s developed can handle jobs that much more elaborate seed drills can’t. He recalls one area farmer who killed out 350 acres of pasture and tried having that seeded down with a much more expensive 60-foot wide air seeding system “but they couldn’t penetrate the sod,” says Unrau. “He called me and I was able to go in with my technotill outfit and get the job done.”
While Unrau prefers to spray out the field in the fall well before spring seeding, he has had good success waiting to kill the forage stand in the spring.
“In 2013 and 2014 I really pushed the limits when I sprayed out some old pasture in the spring ONLY,” he says. “ I seeded my crops and fertilized as usual . In fall I harvested 40 bushels of canola. I was pretty pleased.”
Unrau’s Ezee-On air seeder with Technotill technology works in all soil types, with sod or stubble and even under adverse conditions. “In the spring of 2014 my son was seeding with the equipment at the Debden farm and it started raining,” says Unrau. “Other farmers had to stop, but he just kept going, they thought he was crazy. The rain didn’t affect the operation of the Technotill seeding system. We had to make sure the fertilizer didn’t get wet and cake up, but aside from that everything worked well despite the rain.”
Unrau says that Technotill has been a valuable part of transitioning the farm from cattle to crop production. “It is a very affordable way for us to get an air drill, and it creates a farming system I can handle myself,” says Unrau. “My crops look just as good as anyone else’s and yield just as well. In many respects it has revolutionized the way we farm — I just go out there and seed and my wife is retired.”
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