Singulate wheat seeds to reap benefits

Farmers understand the advantages of seed singulation in corn. What if they could do the same with wheat seeds?

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Researchers long ago concluded that seed singulation and uniform spacing within a row of wheat plants promoted healthier higher-yielding stands that required fewer crop protection products.

But is it possible?

Michael Horsch says yes.

The German industrialist and brains behind some of the most advanced air drills and planters in the world said wheat seed singulation can be achieved on a large scale, such as a western Canadian grain farm.

Not only that, but it can be performed with a typical air drill rather than investing in a corn planter.

“We have one project going on for many years, called singulating wheat,” Horsch told farmers at a mid-March meeting at genAg, an equipment dealership in Portage la Prairie, Man., that handles Horsch machinery.

“This is nothing scientifically new. It’s long been known that if you can have wheat seeds evenly spaced from each other, minimum of an inch or inch and a half apart, then you have what’s called a positive competition.

“Seeds come up through the soil and produce one leaf, then they’re going to start tillering. You can have negative tillering, which means the suckers live from the same root system as the main plant. When it gets hot and dry at heading, all of a sudden they’ve aborted and they won’t fill the heads. You get lots of straw, but no yield.”

The other path is positive tillering, which Horsch said works better in winter wheat than spring wheat. A high percentage of tillers in this system produces their own root system out of the same seed. These wheat plants typically won’t abort.

“They’re going to fill in the head. You have the same amount of water and nutrition going into the plant, but with positive tillering, you produce a higher yield and less straw,” he said.

“The idea is nothing new. All you need is the technology that’s practical enough so you can do it on a large scale.”

Singulation and uniform plant spacing has been routine with corn seeds for decades, but singulation of the small light weight elongated wheat seeds continues to elude engineers.

A decade ago, Horsch challenged the engineers in his company’s research and development department to turn his rough drawings into a practical device for singulating wheat seeds.

“Technically, we have now solved it. It took us 10 years, but now we can do it. It’s not that complicated,” he said.

“We run our own farms, so we’ve been doing trials singulating wheat and looking at the science of it over a 10 year trial period. We don’t just do little five acre plots. We compare 500 acres of singulated wheat to 500 acres of wheat seeded in the conventional manner.

“Our long-term results on singulated wheat over normally seeded wheat show that we need 30 to 40 percent less fungicides on singulated wheat. Why? Because the plant is stronger and fights disease much better. That’s a significant input saving. Plus, we saw yield increases of six percent.”

Horsch said the normally seeded wheat had lots of suckers living off the main root. When any type of stress occurred, the plant weakened and pathogens took over.

As well, the stronger singulated plants were better able to deal with weed and insect pressure.

The concept of the new singulator is pretty simple and doesn’t depart totally from the singulators that are commercially available for corn.

Seed is blown into four airtight compartments inside the shell. Each of the four white plastic selectors have a groove that is shaped and sized precisely to allow one wheat seed at a time to be blown down the tube to the opener.

Four seeds are sent down the tube to the opener with every full rotation of the spinner, which is driven by a small electric motor.

Seed spacing and seeding rate are changed by varying the motor speed. The motor also changes speed to match the tractor’s ground speed.

The white selectors easily swap out so the operator can fine tune the device for different size wheat seeds or for other crops such as canola or flax.

For more information, contact Horsch North American field representative Jeremy Hughes at Jeremy.Hughes@horsch.com.

Contact ron.lyseng@producer.com

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