With an ever-growing interest in cover crops and no-till management systems, Ontario grain farmers have been investigating how highly pressurised water can take the place of disks and coulters on commercially available seeding equipment.
It’s an idea spawned from farmers in southern Australia – who have been developing water-based no-till planting systems to cope with changing climatic conditions – and one that has some local Canadian farmers curious about noticeably positive returns.
The system works by using fluid jets to cut into soil through heavy residues and cover crops. Seeds can be simultaneously planted with minimal ground and cover disturbance, and fertiliser and other inputs can also be incorporated at the same time. The jets are powered with a pump and fed through reservoirs attached to the drill.
According to the company (and farmers) behind the Canadian investigation into this technology, the system has – or could have – a wide range of practical applications for crop farmers. Waiting for the ground to dry out or dew to dry off, for instance, isn’t necessary since the system is capable of cleanly cutting through very heavy residues. That clean-cut capability could also translate to a lower horsepower requirement, and consequently, more efficient fuel consumption.
Trials looking at the system’s capabilities with corn and soya beans have also shown improvements in efficient root development, earlier germination, and, perhaps most notably, substantial yield increases – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20% higher by weight in comparison to conventionally planted counterparts.
It all sounds rather promising – really, what farmer wouldn’t be intrigued by a 20% bump in overall yield? But what’s really causing those benefits remains elusive.
The cause for a slightly earlier germination period, in comparison to traditionally planted no-till seeds, is not clear. The actual reduction in fuel costs – and subsequent carbon emissions – remains to be seen.
Other questions about commodity and climatic limitations, the impact of weeds, and more, also exist, though granted, such a myriad of questions are to be expected so early in the game (the initial field trial of the high-pressure water system was in the spring of 2017).
Kits for farmers to retrofit their current disk-and-coulter drills are not commercially available yet. That said, those behind the Ontario instigation continue to look for farmers and researchers to help test the system, raise new ideas, and find answers to the unknowns.