Time To Think About Planting

Published on: 20:35PM Feb 02, 2014

 There has been a wide-scale change in attitude in the past decade among farmers toward planting. Improved seed monitors, enhanced planter designs and results of research conducted by Farm Journal agronomist Ken Ferrie and others have prompted farmers to pay closer attention to seed metering, seed placement, and other aspects of the planting process. The result has been a significant improvement in final population in corn fields and proportionate increases in yield.

Here are some random thoughts on some of the changes we've seen in planters and the planting process:

-Planting is indeed a PROCESS. It wasn't until a couple years ago that it finally dawned on me that, from the point of view of a kernel of corn, there are four distinct processes between the seed hopper and the time the planter disappears over the hill.

-The first process is the metering of seed by the seed meter. With care and good maintenance, modern seed meters can consistently meter seed 98.0 to 99.9 percent accurately. That accuracy is valid to the bottom of the seed meter..

-Which is where the seed tube takes over. I won't get into the current arguments raging about seed tube design and the best place to introduce seeds to the top of the seed tube. But I'll note that all OEM manufacturers and aftermarket manufacturers agree that the current design of seed tubes--that subtle curve in the last couple of inches of each seed tube--is specifically desgned to minimize seed bounce and rolling in the furrow at ground speeds between 5.0 to 5.5 mph. Slower than that shows no benefit, and faster than 6.0 mph dramatically degrades seed spacing. 

-Formation of the seed furrow starts with the disk openers, but is influened by gauge wheel down pressure. A good seed furrow is a distinct V-shape with no crumbs or clods littering the bottom. The sidewalls of the seed furrow should be firm enough to hold their shape, but not so firm they will prevent easy penetration by seedling roots. 

-Closing wheels and their adjustment are WAY more critical than our grandfathers believed. Their theory was that as long as a corn kernel had some dirt on top of it, it would grow. Now that we understand that all seedlings must emerge within 48 hours of each other to optimize yield, we're discovering that it's not enough to just put dirt on top of seeds. The goal of those angled closing wheels is to direct gentle, angular pressure toward the seeds in the bottom of the furrow without packing or crusting the soil directly over the seed. Closing wheels that have too much down-pressure, or that aren't adjusted so they "straddle" the center of the seed furrow, risk packing the soil over the seed rather than around it, with resulting delays in emergence.

So that's four distinct, separate processes that each seed experiences between the seed hopper and final firming into the soil. Malperformance or misadjustment of any one of those processes can negate perfection in the other three. 

Just something to think about as you're studying your budget for the coming growing season, and trying to figure out what areas of planter maintenance or repair to cut in order to deal with $4/bushel corn prices.