In The Shop: Planter School Is Now In Session

Published on: 21:33PM May 12, 2011

 I've been "going to class" the past few evenings, driving around after work and (with the permission of various farmers) digging and poking to learn what did and didn't work with planters this spring.

I'm always surprised that fields that look really good from the road often disappoint me once I get out of my truck and onto my hands and knees. "Picket fence" stands start to fall apart when you lay out a tape measure and forbid yourself to ignore skips, doubles and other irregularities. For the most part, considering the wet, cold conditions we endured till last week, things look pretty good. But from what I've seen...

-A lot of corn that looks promising now, just after emergence, is going to stumble and get rough looking in the next few weeks. The earliest fields went into soaked soil, and there's a lot of seed furrow sidewall compaction that hasn't shown up yet. From what I've dug, the seedings are doing okay with their initial roots following the compacted seed furrow, but in a week or so they're going to get puny-looking because they're going to have trouble expanding their roots out of the seed furrow. 

-One of the culprits that causes seed furrow sidewall compaction is row unit down pressure. Most planters now come equipped with heavy-duty coil springs or pneumatic down-pressure systems that can literally lift the planter's toolbar off the ground if set to maximum down-pressure. In our area of Clarion-Nicollet-Webster soils, if the ground was fall-tilled and then field cultivated this spring, anything but minimal down-pressure settings packed the heck out of the ground on either side of the seed furrow.

-Closing wheel down-pressure was the second soil-packing culprit. Again, in our local soils, anything more than the minimum down-pressure setting packed the soil over the seed furrow. I heard guys comment that the corn really "popped" out of the ground after our first soaking rain in more than two weeks. Those fields that "popped" often needed that soil-softening rain to allow the seedlings to break through the compaction layer left by excessive closing wheel pressure.

-A final thing I've noticed is that some farmers need to pay more attention to the condition of the straw chopper knives on their combine's straw chopper, and maybe to the way their chopper is distributing chopped bean straw. For the most part last fall's dry harvest made it easy for combines to shred dry bean straw into confetti, but there are a few fields where either early-harvested, green-stemmed beans defied complete shredding, or the farmer ran dull chopper knives that didn't do a good job slicing and dicing the bean straw. To some degree, you begin prepping your seed bed for the following year with the way you shred and distribute crop residue out the back of your combine.

I'll keep digging in corn fields for the next few weeks to see what else I can learn about how planters performed. And, it's also going to be interesting to do some digging and poking in the soybean fields in the next week or two. Beans around here were planted into dry or barely moist soil, so compaction, etc. shouldn't be a problem. But there's always something to learn when I take time to dig and poke.