Closing in on High Yields

February 2, 2018 10:19 AM
Optimize your planter closing wheels to maximize crop performance

Rubber, poly, cast iron, dimple, smooth and spiked—there are many choices when it comes to planter closing wheels. How do you know what’s right for your fields?

“Closing wheels have two functions: close the furrow and firm the soil around the seed,” explains Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “Establishing the seedbed is critical to emergence and ultimately yield.”

A closing wheel’s ability to do its job varies based on soil type, tillage practice and planting conditions, says Jason Gahimer, Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR) operations manager. Beck’s PFR program has tested closing wheels for the past five years in corn and one year in soybeans.

Gahimer says even though factory-standard rubber wheels usually result in excellent emergence, thanks to good seed-to-soil contact, crops suffer from poor root development due to compaction—which is why it’s important to consider aftermarket closing wheel options.

No-Till. “In typical no-till conditions with a seed firmer, you should have plenty of moisture to work with,” Ferrie says. “Getting the slot closed over the seed is the most important task to accomplish,” You’ll likely also need to find a way to eliminate sidewall compaction to ensure good seed-to-soil contact as the furrow closes.

“The alternative styles of wheels with spikes, teeth or angled feet aim to provide the proper closing even in the toughest conditions,” Ferrie says.

Regardless of the type of closing wheel, make sure it moves the soil enough to close the trench. Don’t think just because you changed closing wheels you can plant in the mud, Gahimer adds. Best management planting practices are still important. For example, wait until the soil isn’t too wet to avoid compaction and impacting seed depth. Allow soil temperatures to warm up to prevent cold-related seed troubles. Make sure the furrow is clean of residue and weeds that could limit seed-to-soil contact.

Conventional Tillage. Make sure the seed is in adequate contact with the soil to hold in moisture while not causing excessive compaction.

“In a conventional seedbed, the primary concern is soil drying out, causing poor germination or poor crown root development, which sets us up for rootless corn,” Ferrie says.

Ferrie says rubber and cast iron closing wheels are adequate in conventional tillage systems to firm soil around the seed from the bottom up to promote better germination.

Beck’s research indicates wheels with poly or sturdy cast iron spikes perform well in conventional tillage. “They do a good job crumbling sidewalls without over pressing and packing,” Gahimer says.

Before spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on new closing wheels, take a couple of different options on a test run. Make sure you check behind the planter more than once, such as when soil types, tillage practices and soil conditions change.

“Follow behind the planter with a flat spade or even a spatula,” Gahimer says. “Don’t dig with your hand—that destroys the structure of the furrow so you can’t get a clear picture of what the seed trench looks like.”

If you dig and see a “V” in the trench that’s a sign you could have air pockets—leading to poor germination and uneven emergence because the seed doesn’t have good soil contact. Check for compaction along sidewalls to avoid deformed root development.

“In ideal conditions, you want to see the seed at the bottom with enough firm soil over the top of it to keep the seed area from drying out,” Ferrie says.

“Farmers take the job of closing wheels for granted, which makes it challenging to understand how different options can vary,” Ferrie adds. In your fields, pay attention to how closing wheel efficacy changes with tillage types. If you switch from conventional tillage to no-till, use wheels that serve both well.

PFR five-year, multilocation research shows a 4.3-bu.-per-acre advantage in corn with aftermarket closing wheels compared with standard ones, a $15 to $20 difference. Closing wheels are the last step to establish a seedbed. Consider enhancing planter performance with aftermarket closing wheels.

Study Shows Where Closing Wheels Work Best

For the past five years, Beck’s Practical Farm Research program has been evaluating closing wheel performance. Here’s a rundown of how 15 closing wheels performed in various field conditions:

Cast iron: provides good seed-to-soil contact in moderate to heavy no-till and is able to close the seed trench without too much
down pressure.

Copperhead Ag Furrow Cruiser: eliminates sidewall compaction, gives depth control and eliminates air pockets in any tillage system.

Dawn Curvetine: crumbles the sidewall and provides good seed-to-soil contact in all tillage conditions.

Dawn Gaugetine: works well in shallow planting on heavier, conventional-tilled fields and offers good depth control.

Great Plains Spider: works good in no-till, crumbles sidewalls and pulls soil into the row to improve seed-to-soil contact; drag chains are recommended to improve performance.

Martin Dimple: good for preserving moisture when less aggressive wheels are needed; firms soil at rounded points, while leaving looser areas between points in all tillage practices.

Martin Spading: provides compaction-free closing in wet, hard or sod conditions while maintaining proper depth; recommended in no-till with drag chains.

Pro-Stitch Teeth: six times more down pressure to sidewalls compared with standard round wheels to reduce sidewall compaction, closing pattern seals trench and draws moisture down to seed depth in all tillage practices.

Schaffert Mohawk: moves soil with minimal compaction, increases seed-to-soil contact and breaks down the sidewall over the seed; consider adding the 4-link closer for all tillage conditions.

Schaffert Zipper: use in all tillage types, versatile, durable and closes the seed slot well; recommend adding the 4-link closer.

Schlagel Posi: suitable for all tillage types, closes seed trench well without smearing or causing extreme compaction, prevents crusting and has adjustable width to breakdown sidewall.

S.I. Distributing Finger-Till: crumbles sidewall and closes seed trench in tough, wet no-till conditions.

Yetter Paddle: penetrates hard-packed sidewalls well and moves dirt aggressively in no-till or minimum till.

Yetter Poly Spike: versatile, enhances seed-to-soil contact and eliminates air pockets, for all tillage types.

Yetter Spike: aggressive sidewall action, prevents seed disturbance and air pockets, for no-till or minimum till.

To calculate how many acres it takes to justify new closing wheels:

Expected Increase in Bushels x Price Per Bushel ÷ by Total Closing Wheel Cost

  Corn Soybeans
Yield Advantage: 4.3 bu./acre 2 bu./acre
Price Per Bushel: $3.50 $9.50
Closing Wheel Cost: $200/row $200/row
Planter: 16 row, 30" 31 row, 15"
Acres to Pay Off: 213 acres 327 acres


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