The Moskal Family of Star City and their Direct Seeding Experience

INTRODUCTION

MoskalsThe Moskal family farms S&T Farms Ltd. north of Star City. The family consists of Allan and his wife, Melody and their 2 sons, Trent and Stacey. They have been seeding 5000 ac the last few years. They grow cereals, oilseeds and pulses. Their land is in the moist black soil zone. Most of it is heavier Tisdale soils but they do also farm some very fine sandy Shellbrook soils. During the winter of 1998, they purchased a 5710 Bourgault airdrill equipped with ¾" knives on 9.8" spacing with 3.5" steel packers. They planned to put midrow banders on it but had already banded NH3 the previous fall. They went straight into the prebanded land that spring. After outfitting the airdrill with Bourgault's disc banders, the Moskals started one pass seeding the next spring.

In our interview, Al emphasized that they got into direct seeding because he was convinced they didn't need to cultivate the ground to produce a crop. There had been years when they had seeded canola straight into low residue fields. These fields were banded with knives in the fall and harrowed several times in the spring. At the time, they were using a disc press drill and it turned out quite successful. They have been gradually cutting out tillage for a number of years. A neighbour, with quite a bit of direct seeding experience, was very helpful in assisting in their transition into direct seeding. They also thank Dr. Adrian Johnston, a former researcher working at Melfort's Ag Canada Research Station. Al says that they also attended the SSCA annual conference for a number of years and always gained a lot of information that has helped make direct seeding work for them.

PILLARS OF DIRECT SEEDING

RESIDUE MANAGEMENT

MosharrowOne of the areas of crop production that must be considered to make direct seeding successful is residue management. Al indicated that even in conventional tillage residue management was important. That is why in the past, they used a tandem disc in the fall to deal with all the residue they grew. Al also said that he was the first one at his local John Deere dealership to order a chaff spreader and he could see the benefits even when he was conventionally seeding! Now they are combining with conventional JD 9600s. They straight cut 30' wide and swath 25'. The combines are equipped with regular straw choppers. Al said they turn the hammers around after 2 years and then after 4 they will replace them (this equates to 4-5000 acres per new edge).

The heavy harrow is an important part of their operation, giving them even spread of residue in the fall. In the fall, they harrow on an angle with a 77¢ Riteway at 12-14 mph. They run a 360 hp. tractor on the heavy harrow. In the spring they have to slow down to 10 -11 mph because the land is softened up. Most of their spring harrowing is to reduce land crusting and moisture loss. The heavier soils they farm tend to bake, crust and crack if there is no mulch to seal in moisture. In springs when the previous crop produced low quantities of residue (short vined peas or canola), Al emphasized that they must be timely with this harrowing operation or the land will dry out and become so hard that it is very difficult to get good crop establishment. Stacey said they can cover 900 acres a day with their harrow so they keep a watchful eye for those conditions to develop. When it does, they are there pronto! In our interview, Al indicated that this is one of the crucial areas of management that makes direct seeding work in their soils.

Pea stubble can be more difficult to harrow but Al said that as long as they are out there on hot days, it works fine. They have been growing Alfetta peas, a shorter strawed variety, but still everyone knows that unless conditions are just right, pea straw wants to roll. Stacey pointed out that he needs hydraulically adjusted tine angle on the harrows to make harrowing pea stubble work.

Now that they are into direct seeding, the residue problems they experience are around the edges of sloughs where water washes up bunches of residue and on the outside round of fields where they can harrow in only one direction.

FERTILITY

The preferred form of crop nutrients dictates the selection of the seeding system. The Moskals chose Bourgault's midrow disc banders for putting down N as NH3. They feel they are getting more efficient use of N with this system compared to fall banding. Al said he is cutting back about 10 lb/ac on N with the banders. The Moskals have observed that some of the neighbours who have not cut back on the N have been experiencing some lodging problems.. Moskals will apply 60 lb/ac of N as NH3 for cereals and 70 lb/ac with canola. The only complaint Al has is that protein levels are often low on new land.

Moskals run these banders about 1 to 1.5 inches deeper than the seeding openers. For shallow seeded crops, they like to be at 1.5 inches deeper so they have been changing bander depth from canola to wheat. Al said he is not sure if that is necessary. The guideline the Moskals use for setting the depth is when they see too much puffing, they are too shallow. If the setting is too deep, they get freezing on the disc, especially in cold soils. The deeper the discs are run, the faster they wear. So far it looks like they will get about 15,000 acres on the discs. They also find that in their heavy soil, running the banders deep can bring up ribbons of clay and leave a very lumpy field finish. Moskal's comment on draft with banders is that it is quite low. When seeding peas, they lift the banders out of the ground. They do load up the cart with peas and seed a little deeper but they have not noticed any difference in draft.

Other nutrients are supplied through a blend of 12-25-6-8 seed placed. Al said their standard application is 60 to 70 lb/ac of this blend. On canola, they will increase that rate to 80 lb/ac. In 2000, they did not put any fertilizer down with the peas. They are also reducing N use on the crop following peas. On cereals, they will cut back the N to 40 or 45 lb/ac.

CROP ROTATION

Crop rotation is another "pillar" of direct seeding. In northeastern Sask., continuous cropping has been a standard practice for a number of years so good rotations have been developed. Moskal's want to be somewhat flexible in their rotation, depending on the market outlook, but they follow a general 4 year rotation: cereal - oilseed- cereal - pulse. Their cereals are either barley, Canada prairie spring wheat or hard red wheat. Again, markets will dictate acres of each of these. The only oilseed they are growing at present is canola. The pulse crop will be field peas. They have certainly been cognizant of disease issues and been particularly wary of fusarium. They have had some good results with Tilt and will continue working with it to see how large a role it will play in their cropping plans.

WEED CONTROL

MossprayerWeed control is one of the areas needing major changes when switching to a direct seeding system. The first issue is weed control at seeding time using a glyphosate burn-off. The last few years, the NE region of the province has had very early springs. When Moskals have started seeding, no weeds have been growing. Their rule of thumb is when the seeder operator starts seeing weeds from the tractor seat, he radios back to the farm to fire up the sprayer. They have been burning off about ½ of their acres at a 0.5 L/ac Round-up. Once they start spraying, they will typically use this rate on 3 or 4 quarters that have already been seeded but before the crop emerges. They are also preharvesting about ½ of their acres. The crops they typically preharvest are peas and wheat. Moskals run Honeybee draper headers and do straight cut a lot of their crop. A major benefit they attribute to their low disturbance seeding system and preharvest Round-up, was that last year, they did not need to spray 1500 acres for in-crop wild oat control. They are seeing increases in sow thistle, but it has not become a major issue yet. Canada thistle and quack grass are being taken care of with the Round-up they are using. Crops are clean and they are finding very low dockages.

CROP ESTABLISHMENT

Mosdrill1Crop establishment is the goal of the seeding operation. Moskals have been committed to going the extra mile to get good crop establishment. When they were seeding with an airseeder, they would not hesitate to change from spoon to shovels, even for a particular field if they thought it would benefit crop establishment. In direct seeding, Al emphasized the importance of seeding shallow. He said they are seeding shallower every year. Al also mentioned that they have been pushing the canola seeding date earlier and earlier.

Another question often brought up when producers think about getting into low disturbance seeding systems is whether you alternate seeding direction or not. The Moskal find that they want to switch seeding directions each year. This keeps the seeding shanks cutting in evenly and will prevent having one drop down into the bottom of a trough and the next being buried deeply as it cuts into last year's ridge. They try to seed north and south one year, and east and west the next, depending, of course, on the "lay of the land."

MosopenerAnother important issue affecting opener performance and seed placement is travel speed. The Moskals are seeding between 4.7 & 5.3 mph. The big difference they cite is the amount of dirt the coulter throws. The faster the travel speed, the more dirt they throw. Moskals have Bourgault's narrow ¾ inch knife on the seeding shanks. They are very happy with its performance. They said their travel speed depends on how late the seeding season is getting.

One of the concerns in northeastern Sask. is row spacing and keeping swaths off the ground at that 9.8" spacing. Moskals do straight cut a lot but Al's philosophy is: make all the right choices and grow a good crop and it won't fall through on you. They felt the ¾ inch knives were the best openers so they went with them. They expect to get 15,000 ac on the knives.

Another crop establishment concern is getting crop up in the tank tracks. Moskals are pulling a 300 bu. Bourgault air tank and a low profile NH3 wagon with two 1250 gal NH3 tanks mounted on it. There is some double up on tracking and Al said they had concerns about compaction when they started 1 pass seeding. Their air cart has diamond tread tires on it. They thought they might have to go to a lug tread. However, they have had good emergence through the tracks the last 2 years so they have not worried too much about tire pressures and tread.

BENEFITS OF DIRECT SEEDING

SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION

Moskals have found a number of benefits to direct seeding. One of them is that they farm some sandy land and it blew easily when they were tilling. Now that they are low disturbance seeding, there is no blowing. They also feel that they are doing a better job of conserving moisture. It is being soaked up where it falls and so there is less to flow away.

LABOUR SAVINGS

They have also been really pleased with how much more time they have in the fall with one pass seeding. Even when they were conventionally tilling, they had not been summerfallowing, except to take alfalfa grown for the dehy industry out of production. Now that they are direct seeding and can cover more acres with less equipment and labour, they do not include alfalfa in the rotation. Al did say that they took on a new piece of ground last year with dehy alfalfa on it. They sprayed it with 1.5 L/ac of Transorb late in May and cross seeded oats into it 5 days later (cross seeded means they double seeded half of the oats one direction and the other half at right angles to this). The only in-crop weed control they needed was MCPA. They were satisfied with the results.

Savings in labour with direct seeding amounts to covering twice the acres with the same number of people they use to have on the farm under their tillage system.

EQUIPMENT SAVINGS

About 10 years ago they switched from a disc press drill to an air seeder with sweeps. They would tandem disc once or twice to bury straw. Then they would knife in NH3. In the spring, they would till with the sweeps and seed with either sweeps or spoons. One or two harrow packing passes completed the seeding operation. They soon found that they were not satisfied with seeding oilseeds with the air seeder because they couldn't get good depth control. They purchased a hoedrill to seed canola. Their machinery lineup for getting the crop out of the ground consisted of 1 - 32' tandem disc, a 40' field cultivator, a 40' airseeder, a 40' packer bar they pulled behind the air seeder and another 60' packer bar they pulled separately. They were putting on 800 to 900 hours on each of 2 4-wheel drive tractors every cropping season.

Their equipment line-up now consists of a 54' airdrill equipped with the midrow coulters, a 77' heavy harrow and a 90' 790 Apache high clearance sprayer. They still have the 2 4-wheel drive tractors but the seeding tractor gets 300 hours of use a year and the other one about 100 hours. They are seeding about 5000 acres now.

FUEL SAVINGS

Fuel savings are another bonus to direct seeding. Moskals have used figures back almost 10 years to compare the farm's total cost of fuel and oil on a per acre basis. It has been declining from '92 to '98 as the Moskals cut out tillage. In '92, they spent $11.09/ac on fuel. In '97 they spent $8.54/ac, however, they did spring and fall NH3 applications that year as the fall of '96 was very wet. With a little factoring, they probably spent $7.25/ac on the 1997 crop and in '98 when they made only 1 pass, it was down to $4.52/ac. That is a savings of $2.73/ac.

FROST

There are some draw backs to direct seeding. One of them Al mentioned is colder soils which give less protection on those frosty spring nights. They certainly did have a canola yield reduction in 2000.

CONCLUSION

The Moskals have a hired man who drives combine for them so he knows what they are putting in the bin. In his unbiased opinion, he is telling coffee row that Moskals don't till and they still grow the bushels. Al summed it up by saying, "I would hate to have to go back to the old way."