Seedbed Preparation

Table of contents

    Important tips for best management

    • Residue from the previous crop must be spread evenly, especially in no-till fields, so the seeding tool can accurately place all seed into the top 1” of soil and so seedlings have a relatively even layer to grow through.
    • Canola seeded into standing stubble tends to have higher yield potential than canola seeded into cultivated stubble.
    • Some on-row packing is necessary to improve seed to soil contact and seal the soil to limit moisture loss. Packing pressure will vary with soil conditions, but generally very little packing pressure is required.

    Residue management

    Uneven residue on the soil surface can prevent drill openers from penetrating residue to place seed into soil. Residue can also fall into the seed row, preventing furrow closure and good seed-to-soil contact.

    Therefore, residue management is a crucial aspect for successful conservation tillage seeding. Successful residue management needs to consider various factors, including:

    • crop residue amounts and condition, particularly green, lodged or damp straw
    • capability of the seeding machine and other implements to clear through the crop residue without plugging or "hairpinning"
    • combine or swather cut width compared to the spread width of straw and chaff behind the combine
    • alternative uses for straw when residue is excessive
    • weed control methods

    Residue management starts with the combine, may include tillage or harrowing, and ends with seeding equipment.

    The combine must be able to spread residue the full width of cut for the swather or straight cut header, creating a relatively even matt over the whole soil surface. Most new combines are equipped with good straw choppers and chaff spreaders or are easily adapted with after-market units, but these must be maintained in good condition to break up straw and chaff and distribute it properly. If distribution behind the combine is not adequate, tillage or harrowing may be able to fix the problem — at risk of losing some snow catching stubble and at greater cost of fuel, labour and machinery. With residue spread evenly, the seeding tool still has to allow crop residue to pass through without bunching, and the opener must prevent chaff residue from falling into the seed furrow and causing poor seed cover and poor furrow closing (also known as hairpinning).

    The most common locations for plugging in the seeder are:

    • between the underside of the shank (may be the spring trip supporting mechanism) and the soil surface
    • between one ground opener and the next
    • between a ground opener and a wheel or some other adjacent structural member

    The critical dimension may vary with the amount of crop residue on the surface, the moisture content of the residue or even the air humidity. Damp straw plugs the seeder quite easily. Fluffed up straw plugs more easily than straw lying on the soil surface. Dry straw on a warm, breezy day will pass through a seeder while damp straw may not. Changing speed and direction of travel may help a seeder to clear crop residue.

    The straw handling performance of many seeders may be improved by modifying the location where plugging most often occurs. The space between the opener and "plug point" may need to be increased, sometimes greatly, to prevent plugging. Four-rank cultivator units on air drills will plug less than three-rank units.

    Residue managers.Residue managers are spike wheels attached to the front side of each drill opener shank. The spike wheels clear away residue or hold residue in place temporarily, leaving a narrow strip of bare soil for the opener. AgTech Centre in Lethbridge recently investigated the effectiveness of residue managers and found that some were able to facilitate seeding without plugging, although differences in crop emergence and final yield turned out to be infrequent. [1]

    Research from the Peace River region found that a narrow strip of bare soil over the seedbed could help canola overcome most of the cold temperature and excessive moisture disadvantage of direct seeding in unfavourable situations. The research in silt loam and sandy loam soils in 1992 and 1993 compared canola and barley production in no-tillage (NT), modified no-tillage where surface residue was pushed aside from a 7.5 cm zone above the planting rows (MNT), and conventional tillage (CT). Seed zone temperatures were higher in MNT and CT than in NT. The MNT was more beneficial for crop establishment during prolonged dry periods than CT, and for emergence and growth compared with NT under extremely wet soil conditions.[2] [3] [4]

    Tall stubble.Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, a semi-arid part of the Canadian Prairie, assessed the effect of stubble management on the microclimate, water use and seed yield of canola. Tall (30 cm), short (15 cm) and cultivated stubble treatments were deployed in fall and in spring.  Tall stubble increased seed yield of canola by about 24% and water use efficiency (WUE) by about 19% compared with stubble cultivated in the fall. In fields that overwintered as tall stubble and then were cultivated or trimmed in the spring, tall stubble increased canola yield by about 16% and WUE by about 11% compared with cultivated stubble. The differences in wind velocity, soil temperature and solar radiation reaching the soil surface indicated significant modification of the microclimate by tall compared with cultivated stubble.[5]

    A subsequent AAFC study found that crop yield and the overall average water use efficiency increased linearly as stubble height increased to 45 cm.[6]


    Soil must be repacked around and above the seed to prolong seed contact with moist soil. Packing reduces moisture loss from the seedbed by creating a denser soil layer at the surface with fewer large air spaces.

    A fine balance often exists between packing enough to reduce moisture loss and packing too much, which in some soils may promote crusting that hinders seedling emergence. Adequate packing is achieved when all the soil lumps are crushed both around and above the seed.

    In general, canola needs minimal packing for optimum crop establishment. Some packing will improve stand establishment under dry conditions, but over-packing can promote crusting, especially in high clay and other crust-prone soils, and reduce crop emergence in wet soil conditions. [7, with extra notes]

    Yield response to any type of packing pressure is limited, likely because canola can branch out and compensate for poor stand establishment. However, lighter soils more prone to moisture loss and less prone to over-packing may benefit from heavier packing pressure.[7]

    Packer type.Most ground openers require a packer to close and pack the soil in the furrow to create a good seedbed. The packer's shape and width must conform to the furrow and the location of the seed underneath. A direct, minimum disturbance seeder requires an on-row packer. A wide sweep opener that cuts the full width of the seedbed requires a harrow, rod-weeder, packer or a combination of several systems to finish the seedbed.

    There does not seem to be one best opener-packer combination for canola. An Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and PAMI study compared various opener and packer combinations and concluded that “The advantages observed in this field trial between the various opener-packer combinations were minor and likely of little agronomic or economic significance to most farmers.” [7]


    [1] Lawrence Papworth, Blaine Metzger, Jim Vanee, “Investigation into use of residue managers during direct seeding with double shoot angle disk openers,” AgTech Centre, Lethbridge, Alberta 2007

    [2] M. A. Arshadand Rahman H. Azooz, 2003In-row residue management effects on seed-zone temperature, moisture and early growth of barley and canola in a cold semi-arid region in northwestern Canada,” American Journal of Alternative AgricultureVolume 18 / Issue 03 / pp 129-136

    [3] R. H. Azooz and M. A. Arshad, “Soil water drying and recharge rates as affected by tillage under continuous barley and barley-canola cropping systems in northwestern Canada,” Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 2000

    [4] Bruce, S.E., Ryan, M.H., Kirkegaard, J.A. and Pratley, J. 2006.  Improving the performance of canola in retained wheat stubble.  Aust. J. Agr. Res. 57: 1203-1212

    [5]Cutforth, H.W., Angadi, S.V. and McConkey, B.G. 2006.  Stubble management and microclimate, yield and water use efficiency of canola grown in the semiarid Canadian prairie.  Can. J. Plant Sci. 86:99-107

    [6] Cutforth, H., McConkey, B.,  Angadi, S. and Judiesch, D. 2011.  Extra-tall stubble can increase crop yield in the semiarid Canadian prairie.  Can. J. Plant Sci. 91:783-785

    [7] Johnston, A.M., et al, “Opener, packer wheel and packing force effects on crop emergence and yield of direct seeded wheat, canola and field peas,” Can. J. Plant Sci. 83: 129–139. 2003. The study is based on field trials conducted at three locations (Indian Head, Sylvania and Watrous) in Saskatchewan from 1997 to 1999 to evaluate the effect of opener-packer design (spoon-steel V packer; spoon-flat rubber packer; paired row-steel V packer; paired row-flat rubber packer; sweep-pneumatic tire) in combination with a range of on-row packing forces [0, 333, 549, 746, and 1000 Newton (N) per press wheel] on crop emergence and grain yield with direct seeding. The differences observed between opener-packer combinations in this study varied by less than 10% for grain yield, and were almost always associated with the opener design and not the packer type.

    Al-Khatib, K., Libbey, C. and Boydston, R. 1997.Weed suppression with Brassica green manure crops in green pea. Weed Sci. 45: 439-445.

    Arshad, M.A., Gill, K.S. and Coy, G.R. 1995.Barley, canola and weed growth with decreasing tillage in a cold, semiarid climate. Agron. J. 87: 49-55.

    Arshad, M.A. and Azooz, R.H. 1996.Thermal properties as affected by different tillage systems in a semiarid cold region. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 60: 561-567.

    Azooz, R.H. and Arshad, M.A. 1998.Effect of tillage and residue management on barley and canola growth and water use efficiency. Can. J. Soil Sci. 78: 649-656.

    Blackshaw, R.E. and Lindwall, C.W. 1995.Species, herbicide and tillage effects on surface crop residue cover during fallow. Can. J. Soil Sci. 75:559-565.

    Blenis, P.V., Chow, P.S. and Stringam, G.R. 1999.Effects of burial, stem portion and cultivar on the decomposition of canola straw. Can. J. Plant Sci. 79: 97-100.

    Borstlap, S. and Entz, M.H. 1994.Zero-tillage influence on canola, field pea and wheat in a dry subhumid region: Agronomic and physiological responses. Can. J. Plant Sci. 74: 411-420.

    Bourgeois, L. and Entz, M. H. 1996.Influence of previous crop type on yield of spring wheat: Analysis of commercial field data. Can. J. Plant Sci. 76: 457-459.

    Brandt, S.A. 1992.Zero vs. conventional tillage and their effects on crop yield and moisture. Can. J. Plant Sci. 72: 679-688.

    Brandt, S.A. and Zentner, R.P. 1993.Rotations of wheat, barley, canola and hay on a Dark Brown soil in west-central Saskatchewan. Pp. 202-208 In: Soils & Crops Workshop proceedings, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    Brandt, S.A. and Zentner, R.P. 1995.Crop production under alternate rotations on a Dark Brown Chernozemic soil at Scott, Saskatchewan. Can. J. Plant Sci. 75: 789-794.

    Brown, P.D. and Morra, M.J. 1995.Glucosinolate-containing plant tissues as bioherbicides. J. Agric. Food Chem. 43: 3070-3074.

    Brown, P.D. and Morra, M.J. 1997.Hydrolysis products of glucosinolates in Brassica napus tissues as inhibitors of seed germination. Plant and Soil 181: 307-316.

    Bruce, S.E., Kirkegaard, J.A., Cormack, S. and Pratley, J. 1999.Wheat residue leachates inhibit canola germination and growth. In: 10th Int. Rapeseed Congress, CGIRC, Canberra, Australia.

    Bruce, S.E., Ryan, M.H., Kirkegaard, J.A. and Pratley, J.2006.  Improving the performance of canola in retained wheat stubble.  Aust. J. Agr. Res. 57: 1203-1212

    Campbell, C.A., Zentner, R.P., Janzen, H.H. and Bowren, K.E. 1990.Crop rotation studies on the Canadian prairies. Agriculture Canada Publication 1841/E. 133 pp.

    Chinn, S.F.H. 1976.Influence of rape in a rotation on prevalence of Cochliobolus sativus conidia and common root rot of wheat. Can. J. Plant Sci. 56: 199-201.

    Cutforth, H.W., Angadi, S.V. and McConkey, B.G.2006.  Stubble management and microclimate, yield and water use efficiency of canola grown in the semiarid Canadian prairie.  Can. J. Plant Sci. 86:99-107

    Cutforth, H., McConkey, B.,  Angadi, S. and Judiesch, D.2011.  Extra-tall stubble can increase crop yield in the semiarid Canadian prairie.  Can. J. Plant Sci. 91:783-785

    Derksen, D.A., Lafond, G.P., Thomas, A.G., Loeppky, H.A. and Swanton, C.J. 1993.Impact of agronomic practices on weed communities: Tillage systems. Weed Sci. 41: 409-417.

    Derksen, D.A., Lafond, G.P., Thomas, A.G., Loeppky, H.A. and Swanton, C.J. 1994.Impact of agronomic practices on weed communities: Fallow within tillage systems. Weed Sci. 42: 184-194.

    Gill, K.S. and Arshad, M.A. 1995.Weed flora in the early growth period of spring crops under conventional, reduced, and zero tillage systems on a clay soil in northern Alberta, Canada. Soil & Tillage Res. 33: 65-79.

    Green, M. 1999.Direct Seeding Systems: Terms, Definitions and Explanations. Agdex 570-7, Direct Seeding Series. Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

    Green, M. 1999.Ground opener systems. Agdex 591-24, Direct Seeding Series. Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

    Green, M. and Eliason, M. 1999.Equipment issues in crop residue management for direct seeding. Agdex 519-4, Direct Seeding Series. Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

    Gubbels, G.H. and Kenaschuk, E.O. 1989.Agronomic performance of flax grown on canola, barley and flax stubble with and without tillage prior to seeding. Can. J. Plant Sci. 69: 31-38.

    Gubbels, G.H. and Kenaschuk, E.O. 1989.Effect of spring seedling residues on the agronomic performance of subsequent flax and barley crops seeded with and without prior tillage. Can. J. Plant Sci. 69: 151-159.

    Haugen-Kozyra, K., Keng, J.C. and VanderPluym, H.S.A. (eds). 1997.Long term cropping system studies in Alberta. Research Report 1995-1997, funded by the Canada-Alberta Sustainable Agriculture Agreement.

    Heikkila, R. and Lewis, T. 1996.An economic comparison of tillage systems in Alberta: 1994 and 1995. Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

    Horricks, J.S. 1969.Influence of rape residue on cereal production. Can. J. Plant Sci. 49: 632-634.

    Kirkegaard, J.A., Hocking, P.J., Angus, J.F., Howe, G.N. and Gardner, P.A. 1997.Comparison of canola, Indian mustard and Linola in two contrasting environments. II. Break-crop and nitrogen effects on subsequent wheat crops. Field Crops Res. 52: 179-191.

    Kirkegaard, J.A., Matthiessen, J.N., Wong, P.T.W., Mead, A., Sarwar, M. and Smith, B.J. 1999.Exploiting the biofumigation potential of Brassicas in farming systems. In: 10th Int. Rapeseed Congress, CGIRC, Canberra, Australia.

    Mason-Sedun, W., Jessop, R.S. and Lovett, J.V. 1986.Differential phytotoxicity among species and cultivars of the genus Brassica to wheat. I. Laboratory and field screening of species. Plant and Soil 93: 3-16.

    Mason-Sedun, W. and Jessop, R.S. 1989.Differential phytotoxicity among species and cultivars of the genus Brassica to wheat. III. Effects of environmental factors during growth on the phytotoxicity of residue extracts. Plant and Soil 117: 93-101.

    Moyer, J.R., Bergen, P. and Schaalje, G.B. 1992.Effect of 2,4-D and dicamba residues on following crops in conservation tillage systems. Weed Tech. 6: 149-155.

    Moyer, J.R. and Huang, H.C. 1997.Effect of aqueous extracts of crop residues on germination and seedling growth of ten weed species. Bot. Bull. Acad. Sin. 38: 131-139.

    Petersen, J., Belz, R., Walker, F. and Hurle, K. 2001.Weed suppression by release of isothiocyanates from turnip-rape mulch. Agron. J. 93: 37-43.

    Ryan, M.H., Angus, J.F. and Kirkegaard, J.A. 1999.Effect of Brassicas on VAM fungi in following crops. In: 10th Int. Rapeseed Congress, CGIRC, Canberra, Australia.

    Smith, B.J., Sarwar, M., Wong, P.T.W. and Kirkegaard, J.A. 1999.Suppression of cereal pathogens by canola root tissues in soil. In: 10th Int. Rapeseed Congress, CGIRC, Canberra, Australia.

    Thomas, P. 1993.Alberta Canola Production Survey. Agdex 149/10-1. Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Edmonton, Alberta.

    Vera, C.L., McGregor, D.I. and Downey, R.K. 1987.Detrimental effects of volunteer Brassica on production of certain cereal and oilseed crops. Can. J. Plant Sci. 67: 983-995.

    Waddington, J. 1978.Growth of barley, bromegrass and alfalfa in the greenhouse in soil containing rapeseed and wheat residues. Can. J. Plant Sci. 58: 241-248.

    Waddington, J. and Bowren, K.E. 1978.Effects of crop residues on production of barley, bromegrass and alfalfa in the greenhouse and of barley in the field. Can. J. Plant Sci. 58: 249-255.

    Wanniarachchi, S.D. and Voroney, R.P. 1997.Phytotoxicity of canola residues: Release of water-soluble phytotoxins. Can. J. Soil Sci. 77: 535-541.

    Wright, A.T. 1989.Seedbed preparation for rapeseed grown on fallow and stubble. Can. J. Plant Sci. 69: 805-814.

    Zentner, R.P., Bowren, K.E., Stephenson, J.E., Campbell, C.A., Moulin, A. and Townley-Smith, L. 1990.Effects of rotation and fertilization on economics of crop production in the black soil zone of north-central Saskatchewan. Can. J. Plant Sci. 70: 837-851.

    Zentner, R.P., Brandt, S.A. and Campbell, C.A. 1996.Economics of monoculture cereal and mixed oilseed-cereal rotations in west-central Saskatchewan. Can. J. Plant Sci. 76: 393-400.