There are few mistakes that you can’t overcome, given enough time. But problems at planting time set the stage for an entire season’s worth of trouble.
Many, if not most, planting problems result from failing to adjust practices and equipment to fit soil and weather conditions, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. Since you can’t know what the weather will do, you have to plan for various scenarios.
What if it’s wet? Unless you own a crystal ball, you need a plan for wet weather, too. "Don’t mud a crop into cold, wet soil unless you’re running up against the crop insurance date because of prolonged cool, damp weather," Ferrie says.
Most often, you’ll have soil that, while fit to plant, is on the wet side. "In marginally wet conditions, the biggest problems I see are carrying too much down pressure on row units and being too aggressive with row cleaners," Ferrie says. "That makes it difficult to close the slot. If you back off down pressure and let up on the row cleaners, you’ll often find that a field that seemed too wet to plant will plant nicely."
Worries about maintaining seed depth are what make farmers too aggressive with down pressure. "That gets people in trouble in marginally wet conditions," Ferrie says. "With today’s monitoring equipment, you can back off down pressure and know whether you’re maintaining depth control."
A row unit functions sort of like a Jet Ski, Ferrie says. The faster you pull the planter, the more it
wants to come out of the ground, so it takes more down pressure to maintain proper depth.
"In these marginal conditions, in order to stay on top of dry soil and plant through it without moving it, you may have to slow down the planter to maintain depth control," Ferrie adds. "Slowing down from 5 mph to 4 mph is still faster than waiting for the field to dry out, so you can plant with more down pressure and a higher speed."
In marginal conditions, stop the planter and adjust row cleaners, closing wheels and down pressure from field to field, Ferrie says.
One other time you might need to plant in wet soil is when you have wet spots in an otherwise dry field. "It’s a time-sensitive issue," Ferrie says. "If you’re in danger of missing the optimum planting period, and 80% of the field is ready but 20% is still wet, go ahead and plant. You’ll have yield loss in the areas that aren’t ready, but not as much as if you miss the optimum planting window on the 80%."
If spots in a field are wet every year, consider tiling them. "If you improve timeliness over the entire field, you pick up yield everywhere, not just in the wet spots," Ferrie says.
If you can’t improve drainage in those fields, set your planter for wet conditions. "Use spoked closing wheels to close the furrow," Ferrie says. "Put scrapers on your planter’s depth wheels. Use a variable down-pressure system, so you can take the pressure off when planting through wet areas.
"Be conscious of planter weight in those fields. If you have a center-fill planter with starter fertilizer tanks, fill the hopper and tanks only partway. Keep the planter as light as possible."
Whatever the weather brings, patience at planting is a virtue. "Don’t feel that you have to plant just because your neighbor is," Ferrie says. "With today’s genetics, we have a wider planting window. Diversity in planting dates, as long as you don’t miss the optimum range, reduces pollination risk."