What the Heck Does Wheat Pete Have Against the Hoe Drill?

If you’ve ever heard RealAg agronomist Peter Johnson speak, chances are you know what he thinks about hoe drills.

“Hoe drills are junk. Buy a real drill. Drive on,” said Johnson, while he was still the cereal specialist for OMAFRA, in this video at FarmTech a few years ago.

So what does Wheat Pete have against hoe drills?

“They have all sorts of things wrong with them,” he explains in the conversation below, highlighting three main problems:

  1. They do too much tillage.
  2. Their row spacing is too wide — they usually can’t go narrower than 10 inches.
  3. The biggest issue — inaccurate seed depth placement.

And inconsistent seed depth placement makes it difficult to have a uniform crop at heading and harvest.

“In corn, you look at the size of the cob and you want every cob to be the same size. I want the same thing in cereals, but man, I go to wheat and barley fields and it’s all over the map, and part of that is that differential in depth,” explains Peter. “You have to put that depth gauge wheel right beside where the seed goes in the ground.”

Related: The 10 Commandments of High Yielding Wheat

While disc drills offer improved seed placement (although hairpinning with residue can be a problem), he says it’s time to shift to more precise seeding technology for cereals in North America.

“All drills, they are all nothing more than controlled spill devices. If farmers really want to do something for agriculture, design a drill that’s like a corn planter,” he says. “How is it 30, 40 years later we are still using 1965 technology to put cereals in the ground?”

One intriguing possibility is an Australian seeder that uses high-pressure, low-volume water to slice through residue at planting. The cross-slot drill used in Australia and New Zealand might also help with hairpinning problems and is increasingly being used in the UK, says Johnson.

Wheat Pete and Shaun Haney chat about cereal crop seeding equipment and how it could be improved:

5 thoughts on “What the Heck Does Wheat Pete Have Against the Hoe Drill?

  1. Wheat Pete, in a high yield, heavy crop residue, zero till production system in Western Canada, the hoe drill continues to outperform the double disc opener.

  2. Some interesting points for sure. Distribution of seed and ferttilizer is certainly an issue with non-uniformity of the crop from plant to plant as well. You mention a controlled spill of products. Disc drill or hoe they both do that. Wheat Pete, you need to check out the Smart Seeder by CleanSeed to see this new technology you are looking for.

  3. I see it again and again, everyone raves about the benefits of precision seeding vs. hoe drills. However I have yet to see conclusive yield studies that back up the evidence for canola or cereals. Can someone send me some studies that show the benefits of say a paralink drill over a hoe drill on canola yield. I have no issues spending 50%-100% more for a precision drill (and associated increase maintenance) if I see conclusive studies. I keep looking in all the literature …

  4. I think the evidence is better clear. In the UK they mosty use no-till disc drills with narrow rows. They set the world record last year. Then just ask your self simple question what drying the field out more. In the western canada were so used to hoe drills that we won’t believe that 100 percent no drill. stripper header can get you more bushels. Hoe drill are king in the west and not going change soon until the farmer get more information on other countries farming practices

  5. I don’t yet understand how to use disc drills in heavy, wet soils, while in a sandy or loamy soil, its pretty easy to see how it could work. A disc drill with a depth wheel is pretty intriguing for the reason of better depth control but the hoe drill has proven it is more capable of placing seed and fertilizer in one pass. The disturbance we get is beneficial for warming the soil.

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