Tile drainage saves crop in wet years

Worth the investment | Alberta farmer not sold on vacuum planters and controlled traffic farming

LACOMBE, Alta. — Craig Shaw isn’t afraid to try new things, whether it is experimenting with controlled traffic farming or seeding canola with a vacuum planter.


However, he says the most important new technology for his farm near Lacombe, Alta., is tile drainage.


“It’s the difference between a crop and no crop,” he said during a tour of new technology experiments on his farm.


“It’s the best investment we have made since the no-till days.” 


A decade of excess rain has in-creased the water table, either making it difficult to begin seeding in the spring or forcing him to work around myriad potholes and wet areas.


“I don’t see us getting over the high water table issues until there is a drought,” said Shaw, who is installing drainage tiles throughout his farm to help lower the water table and allow him to seed.


However, the controlled traffic farming experiment hasn’t been as successful because of the excessive moisture.


In controlled traffic farming, all the equipment follows the same tracks in the field to reduce soil compaction. Shaw said it seems to be beneficial in areas with less moisture but does not give the same returns as tile drainage.


He has mixed feelings about the benefits of using a vacuum planter to seed canola. 


The planter places the seed with precision accuracy in each row, but it is sometimes difficult in his heavy loam soil to get accurate depth control. 


Shaw has also experimented with row spacing in canola, and his field plots are now grown 12, 18 and 24 inches apart. 


As well, he grows canola anywhere from 1.5 to three pounds per acre with the different row spacings to find the ideal width and seeding rate with the vacuum planter.


“If we can use less rows, we can bring our costs down,” said Shaw.


Dave Hazlett of Red Deer said sometimes there is too much fussing with details with the vacuum planter and not enough talk about the seed cost savings.


“We were doing a horrible job with our air drill. By using a vacuum planter, we reduced seed to two lb. an acre from five lb. The seed costs alone justified it,” he said during the tour.


“We just love the thing.”


Hazlett said the vacuum planter produces a seven bushel per acre yield increase over the air drill be-cause of the precision planting.


“I wouldn’t go back.”


He uses the vacuum planter only for canola. 


The downside of the planter is its lack of fertilizer capacity, which forces farmers to make a second pass for fertilizer placement.


Shaw said he is honest during the tour when he talks about what he thinks of the technology and techniques used on his farm because he wants farmers to learn from his successes and mistakes.


Technology is changing quickly, and everything is expensive, said Shaw.


“I have no bias. I admit when I make a mistake.”