What row-spacing will suit my stubble-retained system
Increasing the row spacing improves stubble handling, but there are both benefits and challenges that come from increasing row spacing in a retained-stubble cropping system. No set row spacing is right or wrong.
The optimum row spacing is the one that suits your individual farming system and will depend on:
- Machinery including sowing efficiency, preferred seed placement and the cost of machinery set-up or replacement
- Crops grown and crop safety (herbicide damage and fertiliser toxicity)
- Yield potential, stubble loads and residue flow
- Soil type
- Weed burden and pre-emergent herbicide efficacy (including soil throw and incorporation of volatile pre-emergent herbicides such as trifluralin)
- Pest and disease management
Figure 1. There are many benefits to using narrow rows (left) but wide rows (right) are easier to manage in stubble retained systems. Source: WeedSmart: Narrow row spacing: is it worth going back?
Increasing the row spacing improves pre-emergent crop safety and enables most growers to inter-row sow and avoid blockage issues.
However, in most environments there are yield penalties when row spacings are increased substantially. A NSW DPI review of trials around Australia over a number of seasons gave an average yield increase of eight per cent when planting in 18cm rows compared to 36cm rows, unless yields were below 0.7t/ha (via EPARF Economic analysis of reduced row spacing, PDF 897kb).
In drier years in low rainfall environments, crops sown at wider spacings can produce higher yields than those sown narrower, provided stored soil moisture is available during the later stages of crop development.
In recent seasons, there has been a move back to narrower row spacings to improve weed management through increased crop competition. This is due to the increasing incidence of herbicide-resistant weeds and the limitations of using pre-emergent herbicides with disc seeding systems.
In wider rows the concentration of fertiliser in the row is higher than in narrow rows and can lead to fertiliser toxicity. Growers should consider options to separate seed from the fertiliser.
Table 1. The benefits and challenges of narrow and wide row spacing. Source: BCG Row spacing for retained stubble systems in the Wimmera and Mallee
Narrow rows (less than 25cm – environment dependent)
Wide rows (more than 25cm – environment dependent)
Farming Systems Groups
- BCG Row spacing for retained stubble systems in the Wimmera and Mallee
- EPARF Sowing position and row spacing in cereal stubbles (PDF 381kb)
- EPARF Economic analysis of reduced row spacing (PDF 897kb)
- Farmlink Spacing sowing rows (PDF 1.4Mb)
- ICC Row spacing and stubble retention on irrigation
- SFS Row spacing for retained stubble systems in Tasmania
- GroundCoverTM Supplement (2018) What's all the row about row spacings?
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