Variety of factors complicate seeding these days

Most producers have become astute at purchasing their fertilizer early. | File photo

Every year, the rush to spring seeding has new wrinkles and complications. That’s certainly the case with the 2021 seeding season just weeks away.

With plant breeders’ rights protection increasingly prevalent, accessing new varieties isn’t as simple or as inexpensive as it used to be. As for cleaning farm-saved seed, there are many proficient seed cleaning operations, but most don’t do the full range of crops. If you’re seeding something that’s a bit uncommon in your area, chances are you had to travel further afield to get the job done.

Fertilizer prices are much higher than we’ve seen in recent years, particularly for phosphate. Most producers have become astute at purchasing their fertilizer early. Spot shortages sometimes occur on certain products during the spring rush and that would seem to be more likely than usual this year.

As soon as farmyards emerge from snow and mud, it’s the time to work on equipment. Some producers will have a new or new-to-them tractor, seeder, seed treater, GPS guidance system or blockage monitor. More producers are making the foray into variable rate application and that can require a lot of set-up.

The sprayer also has to be ready to go and each year more producers customize their water hauling systems.

Even if all the equipment is the same as the previous year, getting it all hooked up and working takes time. Seed drills require regular maintenance and adjustments. Hoses, both big and small, wear out and openers eventually require replacement.

Ideally, most of the work on equipment would have been completed after seeding last year or during the winter in a heated shop. In reality, a lot of projects are completed just before equipment hits the field. That’s also when some unexpected problems are often discovered.

For the second year, the people component of the seeding operation has unique complications due to the ongoing pandemic. If seeding is accomplished with your immediate family and no additional people are needed, COVID restrictions might not be an issue. If you’re bringing together people from outside your bubble, it’s more complicated.

As compared to a year ago, there seems to be less emphasis on cleaning and re-cleaning surfaces and much more emphasis on wearing masks and distancing. A year ago we couldn’t have imagined such a rapid deployment of vaccines, but unfortunately a lot of people won’t have had their first shot in time for seeding.

Even when people get their first shot, the experts say full protection from the virus doesn’t occur for another two or three weeks. From a seeding point of view, it’s too bad the vaccine roll-out wasn’t just a bit sooner.

The other difference from a year ago is the emergence of more infectious and deadly COVID variants. Again, this is a scenario that couldn’t have been imagined a year ago, but it’s a reality we need to deal with.

Any problems that emerge with seed or fertilizer supply and any equipment issues that arise can all be dealt with one way or another. What’s the work-around for a COVID outbreak in the seeding crew?

On the bright side, new crop grain price prospects have rarely been so buoyant ahead of seeding on such a wide range of crops. It would be reasonable to expect that more new crop has been priced than ever before. It’s easier to maintain the motivation to conquer any and all seeding complications when the price outlook is so positive.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at

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