Will Your Planting Equipment Cost You Yield in the 2021 Corn Season?

It’s simple really. Have you noticed in previous years, that some seeds are emerging over several days or some that are weeks behind? Do you notice you always have some plants that are smaller and seemingly behind? Did you think about why? Or what may have caused it? Are you getting doubles, skips or very poor singulation or notice some rows emerge slightly later/early in spots? Depending on the variability, it may indeed cost you a LOT of yield and thus, profit.

I am asking all of these questions because the more you pre-plan and think ahead, the fewer mistakes you will make when the time comes to plant your crop. Mistakes during planting are unforgiving. Pre-planning and preparation can/will reduce the costly mistakes and, lead to better profits. By now, I suspect you have soil test analyses in hand, seed has been ordered, chemistries either secured or identified for purchase and your fertilizer needs determined, ordered and ready to spread. (Please consider this: the COVID-19 virus is still impacting supply and transportation therefore securing your needs early can avoid any lag in getting products you may need for early season production.) If you haven’t taken out your planters and began making repairs, lubricating, and checking all parts for wear and replacement, now is a good time to start.

I encourage you to download the Row Crop Planter checklist from UGA as a guide to checking each planter unit ( https://secure.caes.uga.edu/extension/publications/files/pdf/C%201231_1.PDF ) This shows those components which can wear overtime and may need replacements or needing adjusting from field to field as conditions change. Getting started right to attain a near perfect stand doesn’t just happen. BUT it will pay dividends in profits. There is an old saying ” the sins of planting will haunt you all season”.

Good picture of a stand. Notice the 6th plant from the left. It is slightly behind the others in the pic as it is smaller and came up slightly later.

I had a good discussion with Dr. Wes Porter, UGA Ag Engineer in the Crop & Soil Sciences Dept. regarding his top three problems when it came to planters. He mentioned: 1) Not adjusting each planter unit depth as conditions change. The desirable planting depth for corn in most conditions is 2 inches. He encourages all farmers to dig seed on each row so as to check each planter unit is performing as desired. Seed planted too shallow or too deep is a recipe for problems later. 2) Open up the meter units to make sure parts are in good repair and will adjust properly. In fact, call the dealer and see if they will perform a meter check and run it for singulation. He felt most growers check the seed plate and but stresses to make sure it spins properly and seals and/or brushes are replaced as they will wear and cause singulation problems. 3) Adjust the downforce to fit each field condition. UGA has conducted studies that have shown the improper downforce (too much pressure) can cause yield loss. Equipment is not perfect and when you put two to three parts of imperfect pieces together to operate to create one action, then the action will work as a unit. As you replace parts, then each unit will need adjusting differently. T handles, springs, air bags (they can leak), etc all need checking over time to make sure you getting the desired depth. They also need adjusting as field conditions change i.e., soil type, soil moisture, different tillage, etc.

There are several studies conducted by both academia and industry to demonstrate yield loss when it comes to planters. These studies have shown variable responses to parts of the planter and how they interact with the user and field conditions. For instance, I reviewed one study by industry that showed a loss of 14 bu/ac when seed was planted at a 1 inch vs 2 inch depth. Other have shown less loss but overall seed depth had an affect on yield as it varied from the 2 inch mark. In another study, doubles and skips were compared with singulation from a a regular metered vacuum planter vs a precision meter planter. The regular vacuum planter average singulation was 93.3%. The precision planter was 99.6% accurate. The precision planter improved yield by 5 bu/ac based on a 6,000 acre side by side comparison. This represented a .8% improvement in yield for every 1% difference in singulation. A friend of mine who was the corn physiologist at Iowa State University put it simply: “Corn plants make a bad neighbors”. I could go on about downforce, etc but you get the point. It pays great dividends to check on your planter and check it often!

Source: Hefty Brothers, 2020 Commodity Classic, San Antonio

The picture on the right is a dramatic way of showing differences in a planter row-unit. The Hefty Brothers conducted a demonstration on their farm with a their planter that had been adjusted in their normal fashion. The picture is shared with their permission. You will notice there are 24 columns where corn is layed side by side (1-24). Each column represents a 1/1000 of an acre where ears were pulled by hand. The ears were weighed by column to get a total weight and the yield was calculated in bushels per acre by row. This is shown by the row written underneath each column. The number of ears in each 1/1000 of an acre is listed in the bottom row. Let’s fully understand this. What you will notice is a difference of 2 to ~98 bushels per acre between rows. There will always be differences in yield by row but it is magnified by planters units that are not adjusted properly.

There are a lot of things to think about and do before planting the first corn seed. Let’s not start the season off by limiting our yield potential because we did not take the time to set up our planter right and keep watch on it till we finished.

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