By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo
Every year there a few questions about this topic.
Here are some steps for successful cereal frost seeding from Scott Banks, emerging crop specialist, and Peter Johnson, cereal specialist, with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Be prepared. There is a narrow window of opportunity when conditions are right for frost seeding.
The ideal conditions are when there is no snow, the frost is out of the ground, and the night temperature drops to minus-four to minus-seven C.
Seeding typically can start around 3 a.m. and run until about 8 a.m. Aim for air temperatures of minus-two to minus-six C, with one inch of frost.
Do not attempt when temperatures drop below minus-seven C because the ground will be frozen hard enough to break a no-till drill.
Avoid compaction or rutting. Seeding into a light frost will support the tractor and drill.
Select well-drained fields with good soil structure, where possible.
Crop rotation is important. Following soybeans is best.
High crop residue can cause planting problems. Fall burndown fields will have reduced competition from perennial and winter annual weeds such as dandelions, quackgrass, and chickweed.
As with no-till seeding, these weeds should be controlled in the fall. At frost seeding time, these weeds will be dormant and, therefore, cannot be sprayed in the spring prior to seeding.
Use a no-till drill that can slice into light-frosted soil and place the seed into the bottom of the trench. Aim for 1.0-2.5 cm (one-half to one inch) planting depth.
Don’t worry about the seed slot closing. Mother Nature will take care of it. Grower experience with broadcast seeding on the soil surface has been extremely variable, in some cases disastrous.
Get the seed in the ground!
Consider increasing seeding rate by 10 percent. Research has found about a 10 percent yield advantage to increasing the spring wheat seeding rate by 10 percent above the targeted 1.4 million plants per acre.
Increasing seeding rates more than 10 percent reduced yield.
Use a starter fertilizer. When the soil is cold, phosphorus is less readily available. Use a liquid or dry fertilizer with the seed, such as 50-100 pounds per acre of MAP.
This might mean mixing the seed and the fertilizer together in the seed box.
Use fungicide-treated seed. Seed germination and emergence is slower than traditional, dry soil-seeding dates.
Plant the headlands first. Farmer experience can tell you that the wheel traffic can make the headlands difficult to plant into afterwards.
Be prepared to topdress your nitrogen fertilizer, spray for annual weeds, and harvest earlier than you would with traditional, dry soil-seeded spring cereals. Nitrogen should be applied around the tillering stage and before the stem elongation stage.
Annual weeds also will be more advanced than traditional seeding dates. Frost-seeded cereals will be ready to harvest earlier than cereal seeded at a traditional seeding date.
And remember, delayed harvest can result in a lower grade (falling number, greater risk of “weathering,” mildew, and even sprouting in hard red spring wheat).