Give early seeding technique a dry run

Author: Natalie Lee | Date: 02 Apr 2014

Key Points

To dry seed crops successfully:

  • Select paddocks with low weed, pest and disease burdens;
  • Seed into wheat stubbles of at least 1.5 tonnes per hectare;
  • Seed into completely dry soil;
  • Avoid seeding into non-wetting or heavy/clay soils.

Western Australian grain growers concerned about the risks of dry seeding crops are encouraged to set up an on-farm trial in a paddock where weeds, pests and diseases are under control.

David Minkey, left, Lauren Celenza and Matthew McNee, all of WANTFA, worked on a GRDC funded dry sowing project in 2011 and 2012.

WA No-Tillage Farming Association (WANTFA) executive director David Minkey said initial research had shown that early, dry sowing had the potential to produce higher crop yields and profits.

“Studies supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) have shown that, overall, dry seeding will give you an advantage in well managed conservation farming systems, especially in dry years,” he said.

“Risks include germination of weeds alongside cereal crops, erosion and early sown crops flowering during frosts.

“However, these issues can be managed by setting up paddocks correctly and, in most cases, yield advantages outweigh any increases in area frosted.”

Dr Minkey said many growers were already dry seeding a bigger proportion of their crops to allow them time to complete bigger cropping programs, regardless of the timing of opening rainfall.

But those growers who were yet to adopt the practice could easily test it on small areas of their farm using existing equipment.

Dr Minkey said wheat was the lowest risk crop to dry sow in medium to low rainfall areas because once it had germinated it was very hard to kill.

 “Also, a key financial risk management strategy is to commit minimal fertiliser inputs for dry sown crops in case they germinate late, reducing yield potential.”

Dr Minkey said that in 2011 and 2012, WANTFA surveyed a number of growers who already dry seeded crops.

“They indicated that a low weed seed bank is the most important management strategy when dry sowing, followed by stubble retention and the use of no-tillage farming systems,” he said.

“The use of pre-emergent herbicides is known to be a vital aspect of dry sowing wheat.

“Crop residue retention is also integral to success because of the beneficial effects on soil water availability.”

Dr Minkey said the surveys conducted by WANTFA and analysis of Planfarm benchmarking data indicated that half of WA’s low rainfall growers did some dry seeding and the average area was about 32 per cent of their cropping program.

In medium and high rainfall zones, 43 and 26 per cent respectively of growers surveyed said they carried out some dry sowing and the average amount was 23 and 30 per cent of their cropped area.

Dr Minkey said most growers surveyed were confident that dry seeding had increased farm profitability over time by boosting crop yields, increasing the sown area and reducing the risks of end-of-season heat stress events.

“2011 Planfarm benchmarking data showed a 0.5t/ha wheat yield benefit in the low rainfall zone when growers doubled their dry sown area from 10 to 20 per cent,” he said.

“When there was more than 150mm of growing season rainfall, growers in all zones who dry seeded more than 40 per cent of their wheat crop achieved higher overall crop yields than growers wet-sowing crops.”

Dr Minkey said a new GRDC funded project, involving WANTFA, CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), was refining guidelines for successful early sowing, including tips on reducing the risks and increasing profits.

“This project will research which strategies work best for different situations and is expected to give growers the confidence to dry seed more of their crop,” he said.

More information about dry seeding can be found in the GRDC Time of Sowing Fact Sheet at www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-TimeofSowingWest.

The next edition of the WANTFA magazine New Frontiers in Agriculture also contains information about dry seeding. It is available by contacting Lauren Celenza at lauren.celenza@wantfa.com.au.

GRDC Project Code WAN00020, WAN0021

Region West