How early is too early for seeding?
2024 marks the final year of our ultra early durum study, funded by Saskatchewan Wheat Commission and led by Dr. Brian Beres at Agri-Food and Agriculture Canada. Mike Gretzinger and his Agronomy Research team managed the trials since 2021.
This study aims to identify and analyze the risks and benefits associated with the ultra-early planting of durum cultivars. It looks at a variety of measurements regarding crop stand establishment, yield, quality, and more to identify the viability of this practice and the key characteristics leading to its success.
Our part of the experiment consists of two trials; one focused on identifying cultivar and seeding date performance and the second explores seed depth and dormant seeding done in November-January. For both trials, seeding date is expressed by the temperature in the top 5 cm of soil.
For a full breakdown of our methods and measurements visit our Ultra Early Durum project page.
Mike Gretzinger rides on the seeder as Carlo Van Herk follows Brendan Roy through the seeding path for our Ultra Early Durum trials in Lethbridge, AB - Feb. 14, 2021.
Snapping Temperatures Snap Plans
To kick off our trials in 2023, the team was caught off guard by an early October snowfall that never left.
“Typically, in southern Alberta and Lethbridge especially, we have a snowfall or two in late September or Early October followed by a Chinook that melts down the snow and dries up the soil. Instead, at the end of 2022 we had a flood of wet snow and no Chinook,” says Gretzinger.
This atypical snowfall threw off plans for dormant seeding and had the crew in the field digging into inches of snow more than a month ahead of schedule. Some locations in the study never completed their dormant seeding because of the weather experienced throughout southern Alberta.
Mike Gretzinger checks the soil temperature before seeding
The constantly changing weather in southern Alberta had Gretzinger and the Agronomy Research team eager for the time to strike this winter.
“We were ready to play it by ear, by October we had everything ready to go. Afterwards, we kept an eye on the soil temperature every day to know when we needed to go out and get into the dirt,” he says.
With the dormant seeding complete and the team happy, the project becomes a waiting game. With the flippant weather going from positive single digits to negative 30 and below in days, it’s anyone’s guess when the early spring seeding will happen.
“It’s a total flip of the coin,” Gretzinger jokes. “We can sit in here for two months of winter or we can have another melt just around the corner.”
Adapting to the Weather
Before seeding, our team tracks the soil temperature to ensure adequate heat within the top three inches of soil.
In 2022, early seeding was done February 14 – the earliest ever – while last year it was completed April 1. Only four weeks away, the recent snow threatens Gretzinger’s hopes of beating the record.
Currently, the Agronomy Research team expects early seeding to kick off in March. In the meantime, they’re keeping an eye on the 10-day forecast while ensuring everything is ready to go and prepared to hit the field.
For the final year, Gretzinger adds to the workload to test the potential for possible future years. In response to the weather in previous years, he plans to add two new varieties of soft winter wheat as borders of the trials to evaluate their potential. While they won’t be included in official data, the early observations should help continue this exciting research!
If you’re interested in learning more about this project, you can catch Gretzinger at the Farming Smarter Conference & Trade Show February 14 & 15. He’d be happy to discuss the trial with you!