Wheat School: Use a soil temperature trigger for ultra early seeding

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If you always wait for the calendar to hit late April or early May before seeding wheat, you could be leaving yield on the table or at the very least making the seeding season more hectic than it has to be.

Multi-year ultra-early seeding research out of Alberta suggests that early March seeding and maybe even late February seeding of wheat can still reach full yield potential. If the idea of early March seeding scares you just a little, Brian Beres, with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, says that even moving to early April seeding can have benefits, so long as the soil temp climbs into the 2 to 6 degree C range.

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On this episode of RealAgriculture Wheat School, Beres explains that he started the ultra-early study after witnessing the practice south of the border. He wondered if deviating from calendar-based seeding to using soil temperature as a guide instead might be beneficial, or at the very least not detrimental to yield.

After several years of seeding with soil temps at zero, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 degrees C,  Beres says the results have been  surprising. If anything, he says, waiting for early to mid-May or warm soil may actually cause some yield drag. At the very least, seeding when soil is 2 to 4 degrees — even in early March — achieved full yield potential across all research sites. Beres notes that while the early seeding trial has been successful in all locations trialled, even in the north, not every site achieved the right conditions of warm soil early enough in the year. The concept only really works when conditions are right, he says.

The research also looked at the possibility of genetics interacting with cold soils — do you need to be extra choosy in what variety you use? Beres says that using cold-tolerant lines, developed by Rob Graf vs a standard CWRS line (in this case, Stettler) didn’t convey any benefits. And that’s a credit to plant breeders for sure, he says.

Ultra early seeding is something farmers can do right now, this year, if conditions are right, Beres says. The only real caveats are that very cold soil (that 0 degree C mark) could damage some implements, and that wheat seed going into cold soil definitely needs a seed treatment for added protection. Other than that, he says, let the soil temp, not the calendar, be your guide.

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