How changing the way we look at planting increases yield

As part of our commitment to increasing crop yield for farmers, we welcome technical innovation and make a point of researching ways we can do better. Over the past few years we’ve been working alongside Lincoln University scientist Dr. Jim Gibbs to find a way to increase fodder beet yields by changing the way seeds are sown, and the results are exciting to say the least.

In thinking about traditional planting methods, Dr. Gibbs realised a few years ago that the idea of planting in rows came from a time when horse-drawn harvesters were used. However, when it comes to grazing stocks such as fodder beet, this thinking doesn’t apply.

To investigate why this was still the case, he visited universities and beet co-operatives in the US to find out if there was any agronomical advantage to this method, but he couldn’t find any evidence to back up this thinking.

“I had to ask if the wide row spacings, where plants are sown tightly down the rows, is the best way for each plant and the crop as a whole… It turns out it’s not” – Dr. Jim Gibbs, Lincoln University scientist

Trialing 30cm, 40cm and 50cm row spacings over the 2016-2017 season, together we discovered that narrower row spaces than the traditional 50cm can produce increases in yield of 15-20%, or 3.5-5t DM/ha. One irrigated crop was independently measured by Canterbury Feed Assessments at an impressive 40t DM/ha.

Focusing on this simple aspect of planting, we’re convinced that narrower spacing can bring advantages with no extra cost in fertiliser, sprays or seed. Due to the narrower spacing, it’s also possible to increase the population of plants from the typical 80,000 to 110,000 plants/ha.

“Spreading them more evenly and narrowing the rows reduces the competition within the row and enables the plants to get canopy closure faster”, says Dr. Gibbs. Tom Bird, one of our agronomists, agrees. As someone who sees the growth of this crop across a number of pastures daily, he’s helping farmers to see the logic behind this thinking.

“It’s about capturing the light from the sun and driving it through the leaf for the bulb. The canopy is like a huge solar panel and the faster canopy closure can be achieved the longer that solar panel has time to work.” – Thomas Bird, Wholesale Seeds agronomist

We believe that in time our research will pay dividends for farmers across the country. Currently, the world record beet yield is almost 50t DM/ha, and here in New Zealand we have the chance to develop a completely new agronomic approach when it comes to maximising yield. The potential of this crop is yet to be realised, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

For more information on how your pastures can be maximised for optimal growth, feel free to get in touch with your local agronomist today.