Wasting Good Seed
Mar 04, 2013
As we've become adept at getting planters to plant almost perfectly, we're learning that even the best-prepared planter with the latest seeding gadgetry won't produce a perfect final stand if the field cultivator, field conditioner or disk leaves a lousy seedbed.
Last spring I fought a planter that refused to plant at a consistent depth. The customer was planting into the previous year's soybean stubble that had been field cultivated once to incorporate herbicide. He had applied anhydrous the previous fall. It wasn't until I kneeled to dig my umpteenth check strip to check seed depth that I noticed one of my knees was sitting on top of the ground, and the other was sunk almost 6 inches into soft soil. We eventually determined that the anhydrous knife strips, which ran at a slight angle to the new corn rows, were significantly more mellow than the ground between them. Every time a planter unit crossed an anhydrous strip, it buried itself in the mellow soil and planted seeds up to two inches deeper than other units riding on firmer ground between the anhydrous strips. There was nothing the farmer could do to resolve the situation, unless he wanted to re-work the field one or more times to firm up the soil and "fill" the softer anhydrous strips.
Another field for another customer looked like a dream seedbed. His vertical tillage tool used rolling baskets and the seedbed ahead of the planter was as smooth as a pool table. I had reason to literally ride on the planter to check some adjustments while it was rolling through the field, and I think I was bouncing less on the planter than the farmer was sitting in the cab--smoothest seedbed I've ever seen. I was really impressed until after the planter stopped and I stepped on a gauge wheel as I dismounted the planter. The gauge wheel spun, indicating it wasn't touching the ground. Neither were half the other gauge wheels on the planter, even though the planter was lowered and the farmer had a fair amount of down pressure on the row units. Long story short, the no-till field was as hard as pavement, and we had to crank up down pressure to max levels just to get the disk openers to cut full-depth seed furrows. And then we had a tough time getting enough down pressure on the closing wheels to close the slots we'd carved in the "pavement."
I watched both fields all summer, and they looked pretty uneven throughout the growing season. Having been there at planting and done a lot of digging in both fields, I knew the planters had done their jobs well. The problem was in the way the seedbeds were (or weren't) prepared. This year I'm going to pay more attention during my service calls to take note of the condition of seedbeds. The next step toward getting a "picket fence" final stand may have nothing to do with the planter itself.