High-Speed Planting: Avoiding the Risks to Maximize Reward

July 22, 2016 06:00 AM

High-speed planting has a lot of appeal – planting more acres per day could mean adding acres, dropping a second planter, or taking stress off machinery and employees. But throttling up comes with challenges and risks.

“[If] we start losing ear count or losing stand because we’re driving fast, we’re going to have issues,” says Isaac Ferrie, a Certified Crop Advisor at Crop-Tech Consulting.

When considering high-speed planting, prep begins in the fall and should be top of mind, even during summer scouting, so improvements can be made in the future. Farm Journal field agronomist Ken Ferrie talked about the benefits and pitfalls of high-speed at Farm Journal’s Corn College events. He identifies several places high-speed planting can go awry.

Seedbed Prep

Sometimes a field looks level on the surface, but as soon as the planter gets rolling, rough patches emerge. Ken says a field like this likely failed to reach full shatter during vertical tillage the prior fall.

The best way to know if this happened? Simply drive a truck across the field.

“If there’s a lot of bouncing going on - you’re getting tossed around in the truck, stuff is flying off the dash, your coffee cup is bouncing out of the holder - that tells you that you don’t have full shatter,” Ken says.

He adds that it’s actually easy to tell when the soils been compacted. “It’s like a rumble strip on steroids.”

Compacted soil beneath the surface causes the tractor and the planter to bounce, which leads to uneven seed depths, seeds planted in hard clods, and an increased likelihood of skips and doubles.

Ken says the best solution to this is proper seedbed prep in the fall. Shallow chiseled ground likely won’t break up compaction. “If they had run a soil finisher, they would’ve fixed it,” he explains.

Skips, Doubles and Late Emergence

Ignoring planter bounce can lead to uneven emergence, skips, doubles and a ripple of other issues, from aggravated insect problems to differing moistures at harvest.

Ken Sauder, regional manager for Precision Planting, says that of all the things to consider when planting at higher speeds, emergence is No. 1.

“Is even emergence more important to me, or is singulation and spacing?” he asks. For Sauder, it’s a no-brainer. “We know that an even emergence always wins.”

Sauder says a plant that emerges 36 hours behind its neighbors ends up a full collar behind on a mature stalk. That seemingly small delay then turns into a stunted ear later in the season. And the key to consistent emergence is equal planting depth, soil compaction and access to nutrients.

Late Emerge Corn

The middle stalk emerged late, which can be identified by it's smaller diameter and shorter first collar. © Christopher Walljasper/Farm journal


But Isaac Ferrie says you can’t forsake row spacing, either. The goal is “photocopied ears and picket fence rows,” he says.

One helps the other. Evenly spaced rows give each ear has a better chance of filling out fully. Both skips and doubles hurt the ears’ chance of contributing to full yield, but Isaac says double plants can actually be costlier than skips.

“Doubles usually do not produce a harvestable ear,” he says. “They’ll produce an ear, you’ll get some grain on it,” Isaac explains. But because they’re so close to the next plant, “a lot of times they will rob from the ear beside it.”

One full, healthy ear is better than two week ears trying to share nitrogen and water. Proper planter calibration, along with the right speed and knowing the field conditions will keep those skips and doubles to a minimum.

Skipped seeds could be from delivery issues, bouncing, or other errors. While detrimental to yield, skips are not as dangerous as doubles, which will leach resources, resulting in smaller ears. © Christopher Walljasper/Farm Journal


Spring Fixes

While the fix for uneven ground is best remedied in the fall, there’s still a way to save the field from planter bouncing in the spring.

As Ken Ferrie points out: “If you get into the spring and you find out you didn’t get it done right, then you’d probably be better off going back to horizontal tillage and use a soil finisher or field cultivator to sheer off those tops to get yourself a uniform seedbed.”

This option creates extra work that could’ve been avoided by running the soil finisher in the fall. But the only other way to avoid the uneven emergence that’ll come from compaction and bounce is to slow down and increase the down force on the planter. But Ken warns that this isn’t a sure bet.

“Even that won’t fix all of it, because you’re going to go from loose soil to firmer soil,” he says. “There’ll be a time when you see the corn streak in the direction you planted. But that’s better than having shallow corn and deep corn.”


“High-speed” means different things for different farms.

“Speed is relative to your conditions,” explains Missy Bauer, Farm Journal’s Associate Field Agronomist.

Case in point – when farmers are talking about 10 mph planting, they are likely in flat, square fields with good drainage. In Michigan, where her soil is rockier, high-speed means going from 3 mph to 6 mph. Hills, curves and soil moisture levels will affect top speeds. And Doubling the speed means cutting your time substantially, whether your new top speed is 6 mph or 10 mph.

Interested in attending a future Farm Journal College event? Get the full listing of additional offerings at http://bit.ly/corncollege.


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