Drill Search – Finding a New Comfort Zone

By John Dietz

Precision placement, emergence, trash clearance, efficiency, cost – these words were swirling like dust over a dry field this spring for Sintaluta, Saskatchewan, farm manager Darren Luscombe.

Luscombe had a decision to make. He wanted to trade in two well-used Bourgault 5710 air seed drills for one new, wider, more efficient precision seeding instrument.

Also, he was convinced he needed to look outside his comfort zone.

He’s been committed to one system, Bourgault, most of his career. He has three drills, all by the St. Brieux manufacturer.

His newest drill is a 75-foot 3310 built in 2011. It has independent paralink openers, each with its own pressure setting, and mid-row banders. His 54-foot drills were built in 2000 and in 2004.

He’d made progress by this spring. He knew the results, and experience, from planting canola in 2015 with two systems that were outside his comfort zone – a John Deere 1870 air hoe drill and a New Holland P2070 air hoe drill.

He also had gained experience watching his soybean crops respond to different seeding systems.

As a result, he’d narrowed the choices, but as of spraying season this June, he still was working on the decision details. For spring 2017, he fully expected to put in the crop with two high-efficiency precision seeding systems.

“For sure, we’ll get out of the two 54-foot drills and go to one that’s at least 66 to 76 feet wide. The two big drills will give us one less tractor running in the field. Probably, at the end of the day, we’ll get

more acres done,” he said. “In our kind of operation, that third drill can sometimes get in the way of keeping the other two going.”

Soybean response

One difference is likely to be in soybean production.

With his cousins, Larry and Sheldon Blenkin, Luscombe is managing about 9,500 acres between Sintaluta and Indian Head. They are seed growers, operating Whispering Pines Farms. They grow cereals, canola, peas, soybeans, and a little flax.

His experience now includes four crops of soybeans using two seeding systems. The first two were done with a 5710 Bourgault, after he removed the mid-row banders. Last year, he did precision planting with the New Holland 2070 air drill. This year, he went back to the 5710 for soybeans.

“The soybeans were really, really good last year. They way out-performed our expectations. I was hoping for high 20s to 30 bushels per acre and they were all over 35, into the high 30s and even 40 bushels per acre,” he said.

“It was mostly due to the weather, but I did use the precision drill to seed them last year, and the emergence was second to none. It’s looking good, looking promising this year, but it’s probably not quite as good. The precision drill was busy seeding canola this year, so I seeded the soybeans with the 5710 Bourgault again. It’s a great seeder but probably not quite as good as the precision drill with paralink.”

Narrowing the field

Growing Soybeans introduced Luscombe’s effort to identify his next seeder in the Winter 2015 edition.

A year ago, he was willing to consider John Deere, New Holland, Seed Hawk, and SeedMaster systems as alternates to Bourgault.

Dealers for New Holland and John Deere each brought out seeding systems for Luscombe to judge for himself in 2015. He was interested in trying Seed Hawk or SeedMaster, but has yet to try either of those.

The John Deere experience was useful, but now he has ruled it out for his farm.

“That’s not even an option for me,” he said. “I have two New Holland T9 tractors and a Versatile. Deere has good drills but they pull too heavy. They don’t work for me.”

He added, “New Holland has the P2070 drill that I really liked last year, but I’m still a little undecided about which system to get and how wide it needs to be.”

Trash clearance

With the field down to four competitors (Bourgault, New Holland, Seed Hawk, and SeedMaster), Luscombe is carefully searching for insight into trash clearance to make his final selection.

The four are all able to apply all the seed and fertilizer he needs in one pass, with placement away from the seed. They also can give him variable rate fertility options.

Whatever it is, his next precision drill purchase will be linked to trash clearance.

His area has quite a bit of straw. Wheat tends to be shorter, but straw from a heavy crop can be a problem. Peas that have lodged can also leave a matted residue after harvest. Heavy harrowing or burning are not suitable options for the way Luscombe wants to farm.

He can’t dodge the trash clearance issue

“That’s a must,” he said. “We need good trash clearance in whatever we buy, to preserve our ground cover. It’s got to be capable of going through quite a bit of trash.

“You want it to clear the straw as you’re going. If you had a real heavy crop the year before and if you seed directly into that stubble, it needs to pass through the drill without making clumps and making a mess. For some precision drills, that’s a problem and a huge inconvenience. One brand I really like has a trash clearance problem. The brand I use, Bourgault, has the best trash clearance you can buy.”

How to decide?

“Usually by talking to people and hearing about how they work. That’s probably the best way to tell,” he said.

He’s back to the comfort zone issue, and the thoughts are swirling like dust.

“There’s so many different opinions out there, talking to people. All I can really do is see what they’ve done with these drills, drive by fields they’ve been in, and see what impresses me. What I’m saying is, I think there’s better [drills] out there than what we’re using. I’m just convincing myself to try it.”

Each new growing season has its own unique situations. He had a few more quarters to farm in 2016. He was looking at an early spring and dry conditions.

“We were a little worried about moisture in the seedbed. Out of the three drills we run, we pretty much shut down two and seeded with just the Paralink – the one that would place the seed with the most precision,” he said.

“We went with that drill mostly because we could place seed so accurately. We wanted to get it not too deep, not too shallow, but just right into the moisture. And, it packs a lot better. It could pack seed into the moisture and the emergence would be just that much better.”

Right after seeding, moisture came and his crop emerged.

“Bourgault has been my comfort zone, all my life. It’s hard to move away from your comfort zone but you should be willing to try it anyway,” he said. “They’ve all got pros and cons, every single one, even the Bourgault.”