“We have always done it that way.” Precision Planting’s lead agronomist Jason Webster thinks those are the seven costliest words in agriculture. During Precision Planting’s Winter Conference this week in Tremont, Ill., discussions around prepping for planting 2020 were already under way.
Webster said 2019 might have been challenging at planting but it taught farmers a lot, and reminded those in agriculture that every decision made at planting can be costly.
“We took all the studies we get into Precision Technology Institute (PTI) and we ranked them from the one that made us the most money, to the one that costs us the most money,” said Webster. “This year, by far, the biggest thing that cost us was planting in tough conditions.”
Webster said he planted several plots at different dates, and in various conditions. He said each plot reiterated the same thing: planting conditions outweigh planting date in terms of crop productivity. Webster said the corn planted in June out yielded what was planted in April, which was a month that held cool, wet soils. He said that decision alone cost him 57 to 67 bushels per acre
“Take that, times the price of corn and it was almost $250 [per acre],” explained Webster. “You can put all the technology you want on a planter, but if you're playing in the mud, you're going to start going backwards, and we did that this year.”
Planting corn in Illinois in June is very rare, but Webster said this year it paid off.
“We kept going and we didn't take the insurance, we planted past that date, and actually it didn't hurt us to plant late this year,” added Webster. “In most years I think it probably would, we run out of growing season, but this year we had wet corn, high moisture corn, but actually our late-planted corn yielded very well.”
The second biggest mistake in 2019 according to Precision Planting data, was seed placement.
“We're in environment right now, if we have cold and wet conditions, I'll plant soybeans before I ever will corn,” said Webster. “I'll plant them early. And then I'll hold off when conditions are right to set that proper root system on a corn plant by planting later.”
Justin McMenamy, director of product for Precision Planting, said there isn’t a blanket planting depth recommendation in the industry, as it all hinges on the conditions of the soil at planting.
“The sweet spot is really about the environment more than what the depth is,” he said. “That sweet spot is temperature, it's the soil characteristics, and it's also the moisture in the soil. There are effects later – like the weather happens later – that can dictate exactly where the sweet spot is, but by and large the best you can do is get moisture, the right soil profile and the temperature at the moment of planting.”
Webster said he prefers to plant 2” in depth, but said if his row unit is coming out of the ground, whether that be from planter speed or because there’s not enough weight on the planter, he said that one decision can cost producers a lot of money.
“We tell the planter to screw it up on purpose, so we can show growers and educate them in our plots,” said Webster. “Where I had to light downforce on the planter and where the row unit came up out of the ground and the seed was shallow, it cost me $75 to the acre, or over 20 bushels per acre on corn.”