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Target Higher Yields

December 9, 2011
By: Darrell Smith, Farm Journal Conservation and Machinery Editor
Target Higher Yields   1
Tucking the seed in the bull’s-eye involves a series of steps that build on the previous ones. Start with the right temperature and moisture and move inward from there to create a warm, cozy furrow that sets the stage for high yields.   

The details matter in the high-stakes yield game

Home, sweet home—it’s where you feel most comfortable and can do your best work. Same way with seed, whose home is a warm, cozy furrow in the soil where it’s protected from harsh

elements and supplied with food to help it thrive.

Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie likes to think of that warm, cozy, comfy furrow as a target—the center of your corn production bull’s-eye.

Everything you do, every choice you make, affects the creation of that environment, which results in uniform emergence, picket-fence stands and higher corn yields.

"As you focus tighter and tighter, each step becomes more important than the last," he says. "The closer you get to the bull’s-eye, the greater the consequences if you fail to do something right."

Temperature and moisture. "Sometimes environmental conditions are beyond your control," Ferrie acknowledges. "Nothing you do will be successful if you are forced to plant in mud, dust or frozen ground."

With normal weather, though, you can help create uniform temperature and moisture conditions across your field. "If soil stays wet, you can improve the drainage," Ferrie says. "You also can do vertical tillage to remove dense layers and enable water to percolate downward."

If you can’t improve drainage, modify your tillage system. "Don’t no-till a field with poor drainage," Ferrie says. "Instead, use tillage or strip-till in the fall to improve the seedbed environment next spring."

If you have the opposite problem, a sandy field that runs out of water, forget about tillage and leave cover on the surface to reduce evaporation. "Usually, the cover will be old crop residue," Ferrie says. "But it could be a cover crop, if you can kill it early the following spring."

Think about what you can do to have warmer soil next spring. You can’t actually change the temperature that Mother Nature brings, but you can speed soil warm-up by doing fall tillage, especially in northern states.

Be patient, Ferrie advises. "The soil needs to be warm and dry enough to make a good seedbed before you plant. At the same time, though, you want to strike while the iron is hot." Calculate how many days you have to plant your acres, and how many acres will be ready at the same time.

"If some of your fields are sandy and well-drained, they might be ready for planting considerably sooner than your fields with heavier soils. Then you can allow a longer planting period. If you don’t have diversity, you may need a bigger planter," Ferrie adds.

Target Higher Yields   2
A top-notch stand at harvest requires planting equipment that is calibrated and set to deliver seeds into a uniform seedbed.

Uniform seedbed. A uniform stand requires a uniform seedbed. Getting one starts long before you do tillage, if you till at all.

"A no-till farmer must spread crop residue uniformly across the combine swath and be very careful with wheel tracks," Ferrie says. "During every pass, you need to think about how the tracks you are leaving will affect next year’s seedbed."

Strip-tillers must build strips when the soil is right for fracturing. "In the central U.S., you may have to forgo your fall nitrogen application, rather than wait for soil temperature to fall," Ferrie says. "You may have to have someone build your strips while you are still harvesting."

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - December 2011

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