2017 Crop Tour Report

Growers at AGCO Crop Tour events see proof of how planting practices affect plant growth and yield.

By Des Keller

AGCO Senior Product Specialist Justin Remus is walking a couple dozen farmers down a pathway carved into the tall mid-August corn on a test plot near New Ulm, Minnesota. The guests are attending one of nine 2017 AGCO Crop Tour events, getting a close-up look at what corn plants look like—and, more importantly, how they might yield—when they’re planted with varying down force, with deliberate doubles and skips, or at different depths.

The results are pronounced. “This root tells a story of what you will get for production,” says Remus, holding up one of the stalks dug up that morning. The roots branch out at healthy 45-degree angles to the stalk, but taper quickly and don’t extend more than a few inches. Those plants were planted at 50 pounds of down force per row unit, which is considered light.

The resulting cobs from the seeds planted with light down force look good. Remus cautions, however, that looks can be deceiving. “You might look across the field and see that the plants are even, look uniform,” he says, “but the question is, are they evenly good or evenly bad?”

To demonstrate, Remus brandishes ears taken from the plot where the White 9800VE Series planter was equipped with Precision Planting’s DeltaForce system, which automatically adjusts the down force on every row independently, on the go.

Based on ear and kernel count at the event, yields were projected at 261 bushels per acre in the plots using automatic DeltaForce, on what is undeniably top-end farmland. Yet the projected yield on the same land for the corn with light down force (50 pounds per row unit) was barely 240 bushels an acre, while the rows under too-heavy down force, 350 pounds per row unit, were projected to yield only 217 bushels.

“What I’ve gleaned here today is how you can take this information home and make some more efficiencies,” says farmer attendee Brian Herbst of Kasson, Minnesota. “I not only agree with what I’ve heard, but I’ve seen the benefits on my own farm from not compacting the soil.” He has been using track tractors to reduce compaction for years, and sees the ability to adjust planter down force as even more beneficial.

Herbst is among the nearly 500 farmers who attended one of the nine AGCO Crop Tour events at seven locations this summer. First conducted in 2016, the Crop Tour focused this year on the agronomics involved with down force, planting depth and singulation, as well as planter speeds double the norm.

One of the new aspects in 2017 was testing accuracy at high speeds. The plot data showed that the White 9800VE Series planters were able to achieve the same excellent singulation of 99%-plus along with 99%-plus spacing accuracy operating at 10 mph as they did at 5 mph.

AGCO Product Specialist Rick Sparks, in talking to Crop Tour attendees about results at various planting depths, stressed the need for producers to get into their fields late in the season and dig up plants to find out what went right as well as wrong. That way they can plan on changes for the next crop. “How many guys go out and dig right now?” Sparks asks. A few hands go up. “Can I determine planting depth today? Yes, I can.” Sparks then explains that the corn plant’s crown root consistently forms ¾ of an inch below the surface. Using a pulled plant, he measures the distance from what’s left of the seed to the crown root—then adds another ¾ inch to that to measure actual seed depth.

You may have thought you planted at a 2-inch depth, he tells them, but digging and checking later in the season might tell you that many seeds were closer to 1½ or 2½ inches.

Ideal corn planting depth varies dramatically from soil type to soil type and from farm to farm. What is consistent regarding planting depth is that planting shallower than 1.5 inches leads to poor nodal root formation, Sparks says. From there, planting into uniform soil moisture is the most important thing a grower can do, as is taking a good look at the crop late in the season in order to adjust planting practices next season.

“Right now is a perfect time to fill out your report cards,” says Sparks of the mid-August timing.

Farmer Jared Nelson of Litchfield, Minnesota, was intrigued by the demonstrations. “I’m excited to see them take these fields to yield,” he says. “It gets your mind thinking.”

Another operator attending the New Ulm Crop Tour stop, Brad Karl of Hutchinson, Minnesota, noted how even small but regular occurrences of seed skips or doubles can mean lost bushels. “It was very beneficial to see how singulation affects crop yield. I think this surprises a lot of growers and helps them decide—when they see these differences—what products can do to help.”