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December 2011 Archive for Ask an Agronomist

RSS By: Farm Journal Agronomists, Farm Journal

Have your agronomic questions answered by a Farm Journal agronomist. E-mail us directly at, and we’ll respond on this blog to provide an interactive dialogue.

How Can I Calibrate A Yield Monitor?

Dec 19, 2011


Question:Ken, you mentioned at the Louisville farm show last winter that a poorly calibrated yield monitor would closely match scale tickets. Why is this, and what is the best way to calibrate a monitor?
Answer:A poorly calibrated yield monitor can still match scale tickets, but it doesn’t mean it always will. And just because your yield monitor matches scale tickets for the field, doesn’t necessarily mean the monitor is calibrated correctly. A poorly calibrated monitor can under-estimate high yields just as much as it over-estimates low yields, which means you could be pretty accurate on a whole field basis. Yield monitors generate a source of geo-referenced yield data that can enable growers to document the extent of spatial yield variability within fields. That’s what we’re after—spatial variability. A well calibrated yield monitor will show more definition in our field maps, making it easier to see the management zones and the variations within those fields. We have even seen accuracy decrease slightly with a good calibration, but the maps will show better spatial variability. This can happen because now instead of over estimating by 2% and then under estimating by 2% creating a wash, we over estimate by 2% all the time. This will create a map that better shows variation and at the end of the year can be accurately scaled down 2% to show real yields. As for actually calibrating the monitor correctly, you will need to calibrate at various crop flows. Pick the most consistent yield spot in your field and run multiple loads at differing speeds. Doing so will ensure that you are calibrated for differing flows (i.e. differing yields). If your monitor will allow, run four to five different calibration loads. If your monitor will only allow for two calibration loads, like a John Deere monitor, make sure you are running both a normal flow and a low flow for increased precision and spatial variability. All calibration loads should be between 5000 lbs. and 8000 lbs. and should not be unloaded on the go. You should also avoid passing water ways or any inconsistent yielding areas in the field. Also, check the accuracy of the yield monitor calibration throughout the season by harvesting and weighing loads and recalibrating as necessary.
Consider these steps provided by Bob Nielsen at Purdue University.

What Are Your Thoughts On Spiked Closing Wheels?

Dec 17, 2011


What Are Your Thoughts On Spiked Closing Wheels?
Question: We are corn on corn farmers and constantly struggle with corn stalk butts getting lodged in our disc closers on our Kinze planter. We feel because of this we are doing a poor job of getting good seed to soil contact in spots where the stalks get lodged. We have been contemplating the idea of putting spiked closing wheels on from Shoup Manufacturing and were wondering what your thoughts are on spiked closing wheels or if there is something better we could do to minimize the lodging of stalks?
Answer: I would first look at trying to add floating row cleaners to the planter. The row cleaners will help move more trash out of the way of the row unit prior to making your V trench and closing. The spike closing wheels help the most when planting in wet conditions, reducing the amount of sidewall compaction. The danger of spike wheels is under drier conditions when we either get dry soil down in the seed trench and/or don’t get enough firming action around the seed. We have also had good success in conventional tillage corn on corn running floating row cleaners (no no-till coulter) and cast iron closing wheels. 

How Reliable Are Warm Germination Tests for Seed Corn?

Dec 12, 2011


Question: How reliable are warm germination tests for seed corn?
Answer: Problems with seed quality won't always be evident by the warm germination ratings on the seed tag, according to Bob Nielsen, Purdue University corn specialist. His advice: "If you have questions about the quality, ask your seed dealer for the cold germination ratings. If certain seed lots' cold germination ratings appear suspect, consider planting them last to allow for maximum soil warming to encourage rapid germination."
Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie says if you have a bag of seed with a high percentage of pericarp damage, don’t plant it. Bags of seed with a high level of pericarp damage are more prone to go out of condition.
However, he agrees with Nielsen on how to handle lower thresholds of pericarp damage. "When the seed has more than 3% damaged pericarps, wait (to plant) until the soil gets above 50° for 96 hours to reduce seed chilling issues," Ferrie says.
He adds: "Don’t put starter fertilizer in the row when pericarp damage is above 5%. Seeds with that level of damage are more susceptible to salt burn from the starter. The resulting stand loss will negate the potential yield gain attributed to the starter."
Some seed corn can germinate and thrive in cold, wet spring soils. Some can’t. The challenge is to know, before you plant, which seed has a high enough germination rate to handle harsh weather conditions.

Planter Prep Pays

Dec 06, 2011

It’s early December, and your focus may well be on Christmas, buying presents and enjoying the holidays with family and friends. Some down time is good for the body and soul and helps refresh everyone for the next job on the farm. While you’re mulling over plans for the holiday season, we hope you’ll take just a few minutes to look ahead to January. Specifically, we would like to encourage you to pencil in the topic of planter preparation on your to-do list. Why, you ask? A couple of reasons: Winter is a great time to get ready for the spring planting season, and prepping your planter adds money to your bottom line. A split-planter study by Pioneer Hi-Bred shows an average yield improvement of 4.2 bushels per acre when your planter is properly prepped for the field. The key to your success with the process is checking each facet of the planter and making adjustments before and during the planting season, from the hitchpin to the closing wheels. We encourage farmers to check everything: chains, sprockets, bearings, idlers and clutch assembly, including all of the components involved in seed metering, as well as the meter itself. Other factors to check out: parallel arms, row cleaners, no-till coulters, gauge wheels, disk openers, seed tubes, closing wheels and seed placement. If you need help with the process, contact your local equipment dealer or your state university Extension agricultural engineer. You also can attend one of the upcoming Farm Journal planting clinics, hosted by Missy Bauer, Associate Field Agronomist. Bauer is hosting five hands-on planter clinics for farmers throughout the Midwest and mid-South this winter.  We’ve listed the dates and locations below, and you can learn more information about the clinics by checking out the agenda on the Website noted. Whatever your decision, take the time to invest in getting your planter ready for spring. The process is sure to pay huge dividends in the coming year.

2012 Planter Clinics
¦Jan. 11: Southaven, Miss., DeSoto Civic Center
¦March 5: Mankato, Minn., Verizon Wireless Center
¦March 6: Ames, Iowa, Gateway Hotel and Conference Center
¦March 8: Champaign, Ill., Hilton Garden Inn
¦March 13: Coldwater, Mich., B&M Crop Consulting facilities
To register: (877) 482-7203 or A tentative agenda is available online.

How useful is manganese to soybeans?

Dec 02, 2011

Question: I hear mixed reports about manganese use in soybeans. Do you have any research on its usefulness for beans? 

Answer:We are seeing response vary by soil types. In sandy soils, the yield response has been smaller, and sometimes nonexistent, says Farm Journal Associate Agronomist, Missy Bauer. “In muck and peat soils—which, in my area of south-central Michigan, tend to be spots within fields—it makes it difficult to measure the yield response,” she says. “But tissue tests show we have improved manganese uptake by the plants.”

In mineral soils in central Illinois, Farm Journal Agronomist Ken Ferrie says he has “really struggled” to get a yield response to treatments.

“Tissue tests show I get manganese into the plants, but I don’t always get a yield response at harvest,” Ferrie says. “I also have seen one replication of a trial respond to treatment, a second replication show no response and a third replication actually go backward.”

Deficiencies occur because manganese gets tied up, or fixed, in soil, Ferrie explains. So—except for rare situations involving certain very light soils—foliar treatments, rather than soil applications, are required.

Foliar applications of 1 lb. of actual manganese in 30 gal. of water per acre will alleviate deficiency symptoms and improve growth. If you apply a lower rate, regardless of the source, you often will need a second application.

Bauer advises her clients to take a proactive approach. “We don’t like to see deficiency symptoms appear,” she says. “Think about your field’s history. If you have had manganese deficiencies in the past, you probably will have them again the next time the field rotates back to soybeans.”
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