Richard Benko's Direct Seeding Experience in the Gray Soil Zone at Willowbrook

benko 1ppRichard Benko farms a mixture of loams and clay loams on stony, rolling land west of Yorkton, near Willowbrook. Prior to settlement, that area was covered with poplar bluffs and grassy meadows. It's an area that generally receives adequate precipitation in the growing season and a blanket of snow in the winter. An application of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers usually results in good yielding crops that produce a lot of straw.

In the early '90's, Richard became interested in direct seeding. While few in his area had tried the new system, he felt it had potential. In 1993, he bought a new Bourgault air seeder with 8 inch spacings, 3 inch spoons and individual mounted K-Hart packers. It was then he decided he'd try to direct seed some of his own land. He started by seeding two quarters. He hasn't looked back. In 1997, he bought a Flexicoil 5000 air drill with 7.2 inch spacings and 3 inch spoons. Richard chose the narrower spacing so that he could apply all the granular fertilizer with the seed. He's been using this system ever since, although he now puts chrome tips on the spoons for better wear.

When asked why he got into direct seeding, Richard explained there were many benefits he could see to the system. "We have so many stones to contend with so the fewer times we have to till the ground, the fewer stones we have to pick. As well, research and other farmers had shown you didn't necessarily have to till to get a crop. And the gently rolling land was prone to wind and water erosion, especially in the summerfallow years."

Since moving to direct seeding, Richard indicated the system has offered a number of advantages to conventional tillage. The erosion problem has been drastically reduced primarily due to continuous cropping. Quack grass and Canada thistle are no longer a problem. There are fewer hours on the tractor and less wear and tear on the rock picker. The reduced demand for labour has meant a lot less stress. On that point, Melita, Richard's wife, agrees. "Richard works alone so if he were still conventionally seeding, it would be really difficult for him to cover all the acres. Direct seeding has meant less wear and tear on the nerves."

Like most farmers who direct seed, Richard has noticed a drop in his fuel bill. He estimates his herbicide costs, however, to be roughly the same or even a little higher than if he was using conventional tillage.

Richard also identified a couple of disadvantages to direct seeding. Cold soil is usually one problem that needs to be overcome. "We usually have plenty of moisture in the spring and with the crop residue, our soils tend to be a cooler than our conventionally seeding neighbours," he explained. Even though we compensate for that by seeding shallower, the guys that work the soil a little before seeding are out on the field earlier in the spring."

benko-2ppAnother disadvantage to direct seeding is finding the right opener when you first move to the system. Richard said, "On average, a new opener costs about $100. That turns into a major investment. If the opener turns out not to be the right one for your situation, it becomes a pretty costly trial. You'll never recoup that money."

Often, drills with narrow spacings have more difficulty handling crop residue. Richard indicated that to date, that hasn't been a problem for him. "The oats we grow tend to produce a lot of straw so I'll lightly harrow those fields with conventional harrows. The residue from the other crops hasn't given me any problems."

Since beginning direct seeding, the major change Richard made to his system is to his crop rotation. He's added oats and flax to a rotation that includes canola, barley, wheat (both HRS and CPS), and peas. The peas aren't new to his rotation as he's been growing them since the '80's. Now that he's into direct seeding, he just appreciates them a lot more.

When asked why he continues to direct seed, Richard's response was, "For the same reasons I got into it! As well, the crops are good so I can't see any advantage to going back to tillage."

Richard's trials with direct seeding proved to be like dropping a little stone into a pond creating ripples. Gradually, more and more of the neighbours have also adopted the system. It's worked for Richard and it's working for them, too.

For more information about Richard Benko's system, contact Richard at: (306) 782-9507(306) 782-9507