Farm Journal Test Plots focus on fertility and how technology can improve the planter pass
Headquartered in central Illinois and southern Michigan, Farm Journal Field Agronomists Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer conduct thousands of acres of test plots every year. Here’s a recap of Ferrie’s initial findings to alleviate planter pass compaction and a three-year wrap-up on automated planter controls. Bauer shares her insights from a two-year effort focusing on fertility in high-yield corn plots.
Take the Yield Punch Out of Pinch Rows
Using heavier tractors and planters outfitted with dual and triple wheels has been found to escalate compaction issues in test plots, causing as much as a 60 bu. yield decrease in pinch rows.
"You can see the stunted rows in the wheel tracks with your own eyes, as well as on NDVI maps and thermal images," says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.
Partnering with Kinze Manufacturing, the first to bring hydraulic weight transfer to the planter market, Ferrie went to the field to see how the mechanical system can mitigate damage in pinch rows. Yield data wasn’t collected on the small plots, but we did learn valuable baseline information.
In two fields where farmers were running a 16-row Kinze, Ferrie and his crew used a standard compaction probe to evaluate compaction in and outside of the tire tracks with the weight transfer system turned on and off.
"It’s said that at 300 psi, soil compaction will impede root growth, and we were taking readings well above that level," Ferrie says.
Later in the season, the crew returned with a Spectrum Technologies FieldScout SC 900 compaction meter that records psi and GPS location.
"While we can’t evaluate what the difference in psi really means because we didn’t collect yield data, we did record the highest psi readings in the track of the inside dual tire," Ferrie explains. "We think the numbers are higher because that’s where the front and back tractor tires and a planter tire all run in the same track."
Ferrie and the test plots crew plan to continue the study this year. They hope to specifically learn more about how the hydraulic weight transfer system can not only reduce the planter footprint but also what that might mean for reducing weight on the tractor hitch.
The Right Amount of Pressure
On a 24-row planter, the Illinois test plot crew outfitted eight rows with standard springs; eight rows with air bag down pressure and eight rows with Precision Planting AirForce system.
Today planters are being outfitted with hydraulic and pneumatic controls to vary down pressure on row units and front-mounted row cleaners. A three-year partnership between Precision Planting and Farm Journal evaluated the 20/20 AirForce down force system and CleanSweep row cleaner system.
On a 24-row planter, the test plots crew outfitted eight rows with the Precision Planting AirForce system, eight rows with air bag down pressure; and eight rows with the standard springs. They converted half the planter to floating row cleaners and the other half to floating row cleaners with CleanSweep.
"Overall, I advocate for farmers to run floating row cleaners," Ferrie says. "Row cleaners that are run in a fixed position work well in level fields, but most fields have variability in the microenvironment in each row, causing the row cleaner to either be too aggressive or just skim the top of residue. In areas of the field that are mellow, the row cleaners can move too much soil when the row unit sinks in," Ferrie says.
In this particular field, the Illinois farmer-cooperator practices vertical tillage in the fall and runs a vertical tillage harrow in the spring to prepare the seedbed. It’s important to note that in all three years, the down pressure test plots were planted in fairly ideal conditions, Ferrie says. The farmer uses a tracked tractor and a planter outfitted with individual seed hoppers.
"From the get-go, all these factors add up to a fairly lightweight planter setup," Ferrie says.
The 20/20 AirForce system provides automatic down pressure adjustment while measuring ground contact. To maintain planting depth, the AirForce decreases or increases the down pressure applied based on data provided by the SeedSense system, which uses smart pins to measure the weight on the row unit and calculates the amount of excess weight that could be removed.
The CleanSweep system consists of pneumatic cylinders on the row cleaners and an in-cab control box. As the farmer notices differences in field conditions, the row cleaners can be adjusted to do a more or less aggressive job of clearing the residue from the furrow.
In 2011, Missy Bauer measured plant growth and nutrient uptake to evaluate the performance of a broadcast fertilizer application in a corn-on-corn, irrigated field.
Overall, Ferrie says, that when technology is properly installed and operated, farmers should see yield increases because of their enhanced management practices.
"When we appropriately adjust down pressure, we can see improvements in emergence, stand uniformity and ear counts," he says. "Pneumatic down pressure provides smaller increments of down-pressure adjustment, which in varying seedbeds is important. The automatic adjustment provided by the AirForce can improve on the pneumatic system."
In the central Illinois plots where the AirForce system was used to automatically adjust down pressure, yields increased by 3 bu. to 5 bu. per acre, Ferrie says. When running the AirForce and Clean Sweep technologies together, the yield increase jumped to 6 bu. to 9 bu. per acre when compared with spring down pressure and floating row cleaners plots.
"The results include all soil types averaged together," Ferrie notes. "When set correctly, a combination of adjustable down force and row cleaner control can lead to yield increases. When we experimented with different settings, we learned that you can apply too much or not enough down force or be too aggressive with the row cleaners. Although we are adjusting on the go, it’s paramount that a farmer gets behind the planter and ground-truth equipment performance."
With any new planter technology, Ferrie says the fundamentals are still key. "Maintain your true V, securely place the seed in the bottom of the furrow and provide the right amount of down pressure to close the trench from the bottom up," he says.
Raise the Bar on Fertility
For a second year, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer worked to see how high she could push fertility for top corn yields.
"The goal with these test plots is to identify the lacking fertilizer component in order to boost yields," Bauer says. "It’s important to understand what the limiting factor is to higher yields, so we want to push populations and push fertility and see how we can push yields where fertility is the limiting factor."
Each year, Bauer used irrigated corn-on-corn fields for the fertility plots. Soil tests determined the traditional fertility program, which was then used as a check in the study. Partnering with Mosaic, a granular fertilizer was applied before planting. In the first year, the MicroEssentials S10 (12-40-0-10S) product was applied at 250 lb. per acre. In the second year, a zinc component was added to the granular product and the MicroEssentials SZ (12-40-0-10S-1zn) fertilizer was applied at 200 lb. per acre.
"Typically, when you look at an early response to fertilizer, it’s banded close to the seed. However, we had a strong visual response to the broadcast applications in 2011," Bauer explains. "The product is formulated so each fertilizer granule contains nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc."
That first year of data showed an average increase of 22 bu. per acre across management zones with the high-fertility treatment, which included the MicroEssentials S10 product and an extra 35 lb. of nitrogen applied at sidedress.
"From our early season tissue tests the first year, we saw that there was increased nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur in the plants that received the MicroEssentials S10 product," she says.
In 2012, the protocol was adjusted to isolate the fertilizer applications in two fields, both corn-on-corn and irrigated, but one was planted in 30" rows and the second in twin rows. Both fields were planted with two populations—36,000 and 40,000 plants per acre.
The fertilizer treatments were: traditional (based on soil tests); traditional but with an extra
40 lb. of nitrogen at sidedress; MicroEssentials SZ; and MicroEssentials SZ plus an extra 40 lb. of nitrogen at sidedress.
In 2012, MicroEssentials SZ was applied at 200 lb. per acre in a uniform spread pattern on an irrigated corn-on-corn field, which was then planted at two populations and varying sidedress rates.
"We changed formulations and used the MicroEssentials SZ product because, typically, we see a yield benefit from zinc in corn on corn," Bauer says.
The MicroEssentials product was broadcast in the spring a few weeks before planting. Again, in the second year, the early season tissue tests showed improved nutrient levels in the plants where the product was applied.
"However, at yield, we didn’t see as high of an increase to the high fertility treatments in 2012 as we did in 2011," Bauer says. "I think partly that is due to our warm spring, so phosphorus uptake and nitrogen immobilization weren’t as big of issues."
Bauer doesn’t think that fertility was the limiting factor in 2012; the test plot fields averaged 239 bu. and 254 bu. per acre. She plans to continue the fertility test plot effort this year to learn more about pushing yields with increased fertility treatments.
You can e-mail Margy Fischer at email@example.com.
Thank You to Our Test Plot Partners
Our thanks go to: AGCO, Ed Barry, David Webster, Luke Olson, Reid Hamre and Lindsey Pettyjohn; Farm Depot and Mark Laethem; Case IH, Dan Klein, Kyle Russell and Ryan Schaefer; Central Illinois Ag and Kip Hoke; Fast Distributing, Brian Johnson and Mark Dowling; Great Plains Manufacturing, Tom Evans, Doug Jennings and John Sites; Kinze Manufacturing, Susanne Veatch and Mike Gryp; Mosaic, Matt Wiebers and Jim Boswell; Crop Production Services Morenci, Mich.; New Holland, Mark Hooper, Gary Wojcik and Paul Canavan; Williams Farm Machinery and Dave Gloor; Precision Planting, Gregg Sauder, Paul Harms and Corey Muhlbauer; Trimble, Sid Siefkin and Brian Stark; OmniStar and John Pointon; Unverferth Manufacturing and Jerry Ecklund; Wells Equipment; Gary Cooper Trucking, Gary Cooper and Chad Roach; Mike McLaughlin and McLaughlin-Dooley Farms; Mike Olsen; Lindenfeiser Farms; Jerry Reed; North Concord Farms, Kevyn Van Wert and Dick Dobbins Jr.; Crop-Tech Consulting, Brad Beutke, Isaac Ferrie, Jason Kienast and Justin Zeeb; and B&M Crop Consulting, Vicki Williams, Megan Tomlin and Taylor Truckey.