The Details Count at Planting Time

Maximizing yield is about getting lots of things right.

By Des Keller

On a cool, gray day in mid-August near New Ulm, Minn., Steven Pranke is driving home a point to farmers about calibration and maintenance on planter equipment. “You should check the performance of your meters yearly,” says the AGCO product specialist, who is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

AGCO Product Specialist Steven Pranke talks about stand counts at an AGCO Crop Tour plot.

AGCO Product Specialist Steven Pranke talks about stand counts at an AGCO Crop Tour plot.

“Say four of 24 rows aren’t working properly, and you get two skips and two doubles per those metering discs,” says Pranke. “Those four rows are only at 90% singulation, so even if the other 20 rows are at 99.9%, your overall singulation for the unit drops to 96.5%. That’s a lot of lost yield.”

Pranke was working an event as part of the 2017 AGCO Crop Tour, in which the company coordinated 11 crop test plots at seven locations across the Midwest. The demonstration plots focused on the importance of getting seeds planted at the right depth with correct spacing and a down force best suited to soil condition.

Walking into the chunky, moist black soil of the New Ulm farm plots, Pranke measures out 17 feet, 5 inches of row to do a stand count, where he tallies 30 plants in the “stand.” If only one plant of the 30 doesn’t produce an ear that would mean the loss of 7 bushels per acre, he says.

The importance of stand counts after emergence, according to Pranke, is to determine if the planter applied the correct rate, planted at the correct depth, and closed the trench correctly. The importance of stand counts after pollination and ear fill is to determine if each live plant that was “counted at emergence had the correct environment to produce an ear and fill the ear to maximize yield,” he says.

Big differences under stress

The idea behind AGCO Crop Tour, which just finished its second year, is to demonstrate the combined importance of the myriad of decisions farmers need to make before, during and after planting. Certainly, the role of AGCO White 9800VE Series planters with Precision Planting technology plays a significant role in the plot demonstrations, but the “sell” is decidedly soft. The focus is fixed firmly on the agronomy behind the decisions.

“We now have two years’ worth of data,” says Corina Ardelean, marketing manager, commercial strategy initiative, for AGCO. “Last year was kind of an ideal growing season with the right rain at the right time, and planting was conducted in a timely manner. This year we had a totally different, stressful year, weather-wise,” in some locations, she says.

AGCO's Dr. Corina Ardelean discusses nutrient planning at the 2017 AGCO Crop Tour.

AGCO’s Dr. Corina Ardelean discusses nutrient planning at the 2017 AGCO Crop Tour.

Preliminary yield results from the test plots this year indicate the weather stress exacerbated yield differences where seed spacing was intentionally botched, the planting depth was too shallow or too deep, and the down force on the planter row units was too light or too heavy.

In particular, the proper amount of down force on planter row units affects yield. The right amount of down force ensures seeds are planted at optimum depth. Too much down force can cause sidewall compaction and inhibit the crop’s root growth. Too little force may mean seeds are planted too shallow—unable to access enough moisture for healthy, timely germination.

For example, in 2016 when the down force applied to the planter row units was too light—and therefore, seeds were planted too shallow—corn yields averaged 195 bu/acre on the test plots. In 2017, the average yield with that same level of down force was only 179 bushels/acre. (Note: 2017 numbers are preliminary, using data from hand-harvesting in August.)

In 2016, the average yield difference in the plots when using Precision Planting’s automatic DeltaForce® down force control versus excessive down force, the yields were 215 bu/acre and 209 bu/acre, respectively. But in 2017, with more adverse planting conditions, the yield gap widened from 227 bu/acre using DeltaForce versus 197 bu/acre when excessive down force was applied.

“We are going to the marketplace with real-world solutions,” says Tom Draper, AGCO strategic marketing manager, seeding & tillage. “We can show how we help a grower improve ROI and yield. We’re giving rise to new thought and demonstrating what happens if I put on too much down pressure.”

Best practices pay

The little things mean a lot – and aren’t so little after all. A 1% loss in singulation can mean losing 2 to 2.5 bushels/acre in yield, according to a study by Pioneer Hi-Bred. In a second study, Beck’s Hybrids showed that using DeltaForce out-yielded all manual down force settings by an average of 9.4 bu/acre.

“Data like this is used to help farmers make decisions with regards to operating their planters, equipping their planters and what options to add to their planters when purchasing a new one,” says Bryce Baker, OEM Lead at Precision Planting. “We are making this information available to producers through Performance Agronomy magazine, AGCO product specialists and the AGCO Crop Tour.”

He hopes that farmers will take advantage of the knowledge being collected, put those best practices to work and track the details about their fields the same way the AGCO Crop Tour dissects what has happened in the plots.

“You need to know to make the right decisions,” says Baker. “We’re doing the research to try and help everyone understand what are all the things to consider when making planting decisions—and following up to know if they were the right decisions.”

Photos: Marc Ward, Jamie Cole