Date: 18 November 2020

Over recent years pastoral farmers throughout New Zealand have been asking local drilling contractors to precision plant their winter feed crops in order to lift crop yields. The introduction of fodder-beet into the domestic market provided the catalyst for precision planting on dairy and dry-stock farms and over the last two-three years there has been a shift away from conventional drilling of swedes to precision planting.

PGG Wrightson Seeds, the leaders in the domestic swede seed market worked closely with drilling contractors in Southland, the largest swede growing region in New Zealand, to help develop the market. Field trials showed some impressive results in terms of yield increases over traditional style planting. Contractors have been strong advocates in the swede market, as they could see the benefits on offer to farmers and it also extended their drilling season.

In 2017 PGG Wrightson Seeds teamed up with Seed Innovations, utilising the knowledge and expertise the company has in seed pelleting to formulate and produce a product suitable for swedes. The pelleting of seed is particularly suited to bulb crops such as fodder beet and swedes, because a large proportion of the dry-matter yield is based around the bulb, and the precision placement of seed allows the crop the space to grow to its genetic potential.

The finished product now includes a combination of PGG Wrightson Seeds’ Ultrastrike® seed treatment technology, which includes insecticide, fungicide and molybdenum, all combining to protect seedlings and enhance early crop growth, in addition to Seed Innovations’ Splitkote seed pelleting technology, allowing the precision placement of seed and subsequent yield gains. The pelleting material increases the seed size by approximately 600%, enabling precision planters to easily pick up the seed on the plates before placement in the soil.

PGG Wrightson Seeds’ Sales Agronomist in Southland, Brian Young says it is smart technology and not just a matter of putting a coating around the seed to increase the size. “It takes little moisture to germinate the seed as it absorbs moisture from the soil and air, then the seed swells up and splits the coat, allowing the seed to germinate. We have found over the last two to three years that it germinates as well as, if not better than traditional seeds in dry conditions”.

Sown at 90,000 seeds per hectare, at a 22 cm seed spacing in 50 cm rows, Ultrastrike® pelleted swede seed delivers approximately 350 gm per hectare of seed, compared to conventional sowing rates of 800 to 1,000 gm per hectare. Paddock preparation is important with precision sowing, as is ongoing crop monitoring. Brian says, “because we are sowing fewer seeds per hectare we can’t afford to lose plants to insects and weeds, so it is important to be pro-active with monitoring and crop management”. Another benefit of precision planting is that many drills contain a fertiliser box, which allows fertiliser to be placed directly under the seed at drilling - this is particularly beneficial for swedes, which have a shallow root system and are generally poor foragers of nutrients.

Precision sowing swedes is gaining traction with farmers who are wanting to put more focus on better yielding crops to reduce the cost per kilogram of dry-matter grown. Brian says, “often we can focus too much on the up-front cost, but the reality is, if we can grow 17,000 to 19,000 kgDM per hectare at around $1,400 ha, then that is 7 to 8 cents per kgDM, which is a cheap source of winter feed.”

PGG Wrightson Seeds currently has five swede varieties on the market available in pelleted format. The company is also looking to explore opportunities for precision planting in the bulb turnip market, after some promising early trials.

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