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Avoid planting blunders

At late-winter meetings, the Channel seed brand was promoting what its agronomists and sales reps call “seedsmanship.” What’s that?

Avoid planting blunders

At late-winter meetings, the Channel seed brand was promoting what its agronomists and sales reps call “seedsmanship.” What’s that?

“We are providing information to our customers to really help them avoid potential problems,” says Jim Cisco, lead agronomist for its central division, which covers Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Farmers face similar problems every spring. However, the correct solution to a problem may change as planting conditions change. “We try to help farmers recognize the key principles, so they can make the right move and avoid the pitfalls,” he says. This is better, Cisco notes, than showing up as an agronomist after the problem is discovered in the field.

“By May our phones are ringing with calls from customers with questions on things starting to show up,” says Cisco, who is based at Webster City. “A high percentage of the problems we see would have been easily fixed had someone made a key decision before they began planting — maybe something as simple as planter adjustment on seeding depth. Large planters quickly multiply an incorrect setting over many acres.”

Key Points

It pays to review the basics of planter operation before you start planting.

Watch planter speed, seeding depth and population; adjust for field conditions.

Make planter adjustments to match changes in soil condition, crop residue.

One of the presentations at the meetings was on “The most valuable piece of equipment on your farm.” Every planter comes with residue managers or row cleaners. Some farmers take them off, or raise them up and don’t use them. “You go out on a service call and the farmer isn’t happy with the stand,” says Cisco. “You say, ‘It doesn’t look like the row cleaners were doing much’ and you ask, ‘Do you have row cleaners?’ The farmer answers, ‘Yes, they’re on a pallet in my machine shed.’”

Use those row cleaners

Inadequate stands often result when farmers choose not to use row cleaners. The attachments help get crop residue out of the way so planter units can run smoothly through the soil and place the seed at uniform depth and spacing.

“It’s worth the effort to keep them on the planter and adjust them as field conditions change when you move from field to field,” says Cisco. “That’s your final chance to improve the seedbed, just ahead of when the planter rolls through it. Once the tillage tractor has moved on ahead of you, if you still have too much residue on the soil surface, it’ll be the planter’s residue managers that save the day.”

If they aren’t on your planter, you’ll be trying to stuff seed down through crop residue and likely won’t be successful. You’ll hairpin the seed into a wad of residue and won’t get good seed-to-soil contact. Or the soil temperature variance in the row will be too great, and you’ll have cold spots under the residue. It’s a simple thing when the planter comes set-up, he notes, why not use it well?

The meetings covered other timely topics, too, including seed treatments, fertilizer application, weed management and planter preparation.

Monitor soil conditions

When is the best date to start planting corn? “I’ve changed my perspective,” says Cisco. “I now look less at the calendar and less at soil temperature and more at condition of the soil. If the seedbed is in great shape and we’re still a shade under 50 degrees for soil temperature at the 4-inch depth, I’ll plant. We are putting three fungicides on the seed and a seed-applied insecticide. Today, we have better genetics, trait protection and better seed treatments.”

Many farms are equipped to cover a lot of acres fast. It’s not uncommon to be running a pair of 16-row planters or maybe a 24- or 36-row planter. That opens up timing options. You can spread out your planting dates, and look for the time to plant when a seedbed is in great condition. Make progress when it is favorable for planting instead of forcing it to happen, Cisco advises.

What population are you shooting for in your fields? With the new hybrids, be sure to aim high enough. At the meetings, “We talked about yield per thousand plants,” says Cisco. “Most farmers are aiming for around 34,500 plants per acre in central Iowa. A few are starting to creep higher, especially when you bring row spacing down from 30-inch to 20-inch width. Then we see populations jump up to 36,000 to 38,000 plants per acre as a final stand.”

What about twin rows? They are working for some farmers. Twin rows have unique challenges, as you have two rows of corn running in very close proximity to each other, only 6 or 8 inches apart. Getting the crop residue out of the way so the planter can run smoothly allowing residue to flow through the row units is the key.

Extra effort pays

If you’re the person who’s always running the planter tractor, let someone else run it for a few rounds, says Channel agronomist Jim Cisco. Get on your four-wheeler and follow to observe performance. Get off and do some digging to measure seed depth and spacing in different rows. Get in the habit of auditing everything around the planter. If an adjustment is made, have your helper double-check that everything is set the same.

If your “sixth sense” is telling you that something isn’t right, pause for some rechecking. Count the seed bags and figure the acres covered to verify that you are hitting the desired population — even the best seed monitor gets fooled occasionally. If a row sensor keeps giving you an alarm, do some digging in that row until you are confident that seed is being metered correctly.

Channel has a program called the Field Check Up Series, in which the company’s seedsmen walk fields with customers at key points during the growing season to monitor crop performance and offer agronomic recommendations for improving performance.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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