Get Off To The Right Start

Lessons learned on the 2017 AGCO Crop Tour can help give every seed its best shot.

By Des Keller

For two years running, the AGCO Crop Tour program of field trials and hands-on grower events has shown how good agronomic practices, combined with equipment designed for accuracy and productivity, lead to increased corn yields and maximum return on investment. From South Dakota to Illinois, AGCO professionals and farmers got their hands dirty together in the tour plots while learning what it takes to make a great crop.

“We’ve been digging out roots, measuring seed spacing and doing trials, and we now have two years’ worth of data,” says Darren Goebel, AGCO’s director of Global Commercial Crop Care. “We want to pass along what we’ve learned to help farmers do the best job of planting this spring and give them ways to observe their crop as it grows, to truly know how the corn plants perform across the field.”

There is great value in knowing if the corn did indeed yield to its top potential, and if not, why not, Goebel says. “If you see a problem like non-uniform emergence of plants, we know from our research the factors to check and think about in regard to smart planting and good plant health.”

What follows are recommendations for some of the best planting practices and important agronomic observations to make during the growing season, gleaned from AGCO Crop Tour research.

Depth, Down Force, Spacing, Singulation

Studies during the AGCO Crop Tours showed how greatly yield can be influenced by accuracy in planting depth and planter down force, as well as seed spacing and singulation. (For more detailed results on these field tests, as well as those involving high-speed planting, check out the full 2017 Crop Tour Results.)

To start, calibrating and controlling planting depth across the field are crucial for uniform emergence, adequate nodal root development and optimum yields, Goebel says. While ideal depth varies by soil type and conditions at planting, agronomists agree and AGCO’s studies show that planting into uniform soil moisture at a depth of at least 1.5 inches gives the best results.

Next, the right amount of down force—the amount of pressure on each row unit needed to maintain desired planting depth—turns out to be a major, if somewhat hidden, factor in how well corn yields. Too little force can cause shallow planting; too much force can cause the roots and soil to be compacted in the row. Getting it right gives the biggest payback of any planting factor, Goebel says.

When it comes to proper plant spacing and accurate seed singulation, the goal is to have one healthy ear-bearing plant every 4 inches down the row, like a picket fence. Accuracy and yield suffer when two seeds drop at once (a “double”), when skips occur or when spacing between seeds is uneven due to planter bounce or other factors. For best results, advanced seed meters and drives must be kept in good condition; for more maintenance recommendations, read 7 Tips To Prep Your Planter.

Check On Seedlings Early







AGCO Senior Product Specialist Justin Remus will return to a field less than a week after planting to check on the corn’s progress.

“I’m looking to see if there is good germination and emergence,” Remus says. “If there is a seed not emerging, do we have a dense piece of soil above a seed or beside it? This may be a tillage issue; we may not have done an adequate job tilling that field.” He also will dig samples to measure if desired planting depth was achieved.

If seeds aren’t emerging, even though they were planted at the right depth with good seed-to-soil contact and adequate moisture, there might be an issue with the seed itself, Remus says. “We can collect those seeds to send them to the seed company or contact the seed rep,” he says. “Farmers often see issues with germination but don’t get their seed people involved.”

Stand Counts And Follow-Up Scouting

While scouting the field after emergence, Goebel also recommends marking a section of row to do a stand count, not only to calculate population, “but also to count the number of skips and doubles, and the number of runt plants you have out there.”

For fields planted in 30-inch rows, measure off 17 feet, 5 inches of one row, which represents 1/1000th of an acre. Count the total number of plants, and multiply by 1,000 to get an estimate of plant population per acre; count the number of missing plants (skips) and doubles (“twin” plants); and note plants that came up later and are smaller than the others (runts).

Goebel says he returns to scout corn fields somewhere in the V3 to V6 growth stage. “I’m looking for uniformity, as in, are all the plants at V3, for example, or V6? When they aren’t at the same place, I know I have a problem.” He suggests putting flags of one color by any plants that are one leaf stage behind, and flags of a different color by those two leaf stages behind. That way you can see the impact on ear formation when scouting after pollination and ear fill.

“My rule of thumb,” he says, “has been that if I find a corn plant one leaf stage behind at V6, it will only produce half an ear by the end of the season. If a plant is two leaf stages behind, there won’t be an ear at all, and that plant is going to be a total weed.”

Ground-Truthing Yields Results

“I’ll dig up smaller plants and nearby healthy plants for comparison, and what you see could be the result of one or more of several things—diseases or insect pests,” says Goebel. “What you might see, though, typically results from inaccuracy of planting depth,” if the planter was not adjusted properly for planting depth and/or down force for field conditions.

The result of not paying attention to these factors can be costly. Often if you see one corn plant that is the victim of an error with the planter, such as a skip from a plugged seed disc, there are likely several thousand errors per acre, Goebel says. And even if only one corn plant of every 30 fails to produce an ear due to an issue with skips, doubles or spacing—that can mean a loss of 7 bushels per acre.

“You may get 200 bushels per acre but not realize you could have had 240 or 250 bushels per acre,” he says. “So the main reason to be out there ground-truthing throughout the season is to have a strong understanding of the things that maybe didn’t get done correctly at planting and contributed to a loss of yield potential, because you’ll never see it from the combine.

“Get out and dig, so you can apply what you learn toward an even better yield the next year.”