Farmer took seeding delay in stride

Western Producer arrived at Alberta farm as part of a regular series just as early May snowfall brought seeding to a halt

AIRDRIE, Alta. — May snowfall halted seeding in many parts of Alberta during the first weeks of May and the frozen moisture was held in place by below average cold.

Looking out across the foothills to the Rocky Mountains, it could be easy to see concern in farmers’ faces in the Airdrie, Alta., area. Seeding would have some catching up to do for most folks.

On the Woolliams farm, nobody is panicking about the unseeded remainder of 9,000 acres. With one seed drill and air seeder cart combination Larry Woolliams appeared relatively relaxed about getting his acres done.

“I could be worried, but so far the fields we have done have gone so smoothly I’m thinking we are still in good shape. And we did get some moisture out of that snow,” he said.

All year The Western Producer is following the farm as it works with some of the latest field technology, integrating it into an operation that has been driving to sustainability for several seasons. Going paperless last year was just one step for the operation in an efficiency workflow that the Alberta farm hopes will yield savings in inputs and labour, along with lowering its overall environmental footprint.

“That is just common sense to me. When I optimize our operation, growing the biggest crops we can with the least products, time and energy to get there, that is how we measure success,” he said on a blustery day in the middle of May that had brought seeding to stop once again.

Tough seeding conditions with rain and wind slowed the pace of planting at the Woolliams farm this May, but they managed to get 9,000 acres seeded with one seed drill and one sprayer. | Michael Raine photo

With peas planted and wheat well underway Woolliams said he could already see his move to a new seed drill and cart were paying off.

The move to a single unit, after running two of a similar size, might have had some neighbours scratching their heads, but in the planning stages for the season Woolliams figured it was possible and, if it worked, profitable.

“This new technology is working out really well for me. Got that new (Deere) C-850 (cart) and the 1870 Conservapak (drill) and the easy calibration and that ability to know exactly where I’m at for seed and fertilizer all through the day is awesome,” he said about the telematics feed it delivers to his team.

The drill and cart combination, with sectional control over eight sections, has resulted in a significant reduction in seed and fertilizer overlapping at Woolliam’s farm.

“I kind of overcommitted on peas this year. I roughly buy about 10 percent more than I plan to go in the ground. I did again this year and I have 10 percent left over. Same on wheat.”

“We don’t have a lot of square fields out here, it’s rolling and lots of doglegs. As high as a 13 percent savings on seed is my rough numbers so far,” he said.

On the canola seeding, I ended with a half a bag of seed left. Makes a guy smile,” he said.

“We got the new (Deere) 4045 sprayer with the ExactApply (pulse width modulation nozzle control and 132-foot, carbon fibre booms) going and got our chemical injection (system) on there. Eliminating the bronzing in the corners and doubling up with overlap on a nozzle by nozzle basis versus sectional control we are thinking is real exciting,” he said.

“It’s not just financial savings. It’s using the right amounts in the right places. Whether it’s the seeder or sprayer it’s better agronomy without overlaps. On bigger acres, these things really pay off in the budget too,” said Woolliams.

“I feel pretty strongly that this technology is going to financially justify the cost of the investment.”

His gut feeling is well-calculated using a whole farm software system he and his partners designed. The system, Crop Boss, allows him to plan and measure each field and crop for its costs and profitability with confirmations all the way to the elevator or feedlot.

“We are observing this (technology investment) strategy playing out in real time,” he said.

Editor’s note: Look for a story about the software in next week’s Western Producer.

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