Planter prep is first step to crop success
There are multiple factors at play in raising a tremendous crop. While many variables are beyond your control, Team MFA encourages producers to focus on the “Top 5” factors that you can absolutely influence:
1. Soil conditions at planting time
2. Seed placement
3. Seed quality
4. Planting the right hybrid in the right field
5. Post-planting management
As we approach spring planting, growers need to be thinking about all five of these, but today I will focus on the first two factors.
Planting into proper soil conditions is critical enough that you need to forget what the calendar says and keep a sharp eye on soil temperature and moisture. Corn, for example, requires a soil temperature of 50 degrees to germinate. A corn seed also takes in its first moisture needed to germinate within 24 to 48 hours after planting. If this moisture is cold, it can cause cell damage, which results in what is known as imbibitional chilling. The damaged tissue from imbibitional chilling can lead to poor and uneven emergence. It also opens the door for seedling diseases to attack. For these reasons, in addition to watching current soil temperatures, you need to watch the forecast for the 48 hours after the anticipated planting date.
For optimal emergence, it is important to wait for excessive soil moisture to dissipate. Planting into wet soils will cause disk openers to smear the sides of the seed trench to the point that the closing wheels cannot properly fracture them. This is known as sidewall compaction, which leads to improper root development. In this situation, the roots proliferate within the area opened by the disk openers but not the surrounding soil, resulting in hatchet-shaped roots. This reduces nutrient uptake, anchoring ability and overall root mass.
Proper seed placement is essential. A corn stand will have higher yield potential if all its plants emerge within 12 to 24 hours. To attain such uniform emergence, you need consistent seed depth.
Generally, I recommend planting corn at a minimum of 2 inches to avoid temperature fluctuations and to promote good root development. In dry soil conditions, you may need to go deeper to get all seeds into moisture. Ensuring even spacing between seeds and minimizing skips and doubles also help protect yield potential.
For all these things to happen, you must first examine the planter to make sure all parts are properly adjusted and replaced if needed. I like to start by ensuring the planter is level when down. A bubble level is usually adequate to ensure that the 7x7 bar is even with the ground. You also need to check for excessive movements in the parallel arms. If this is an issue, look for worn bushings that need to be replaced. Nuts and bolts should also be checked throughout the planter for proper tightness. Then, make sure the drive system is running smoothly. In the case of a mechanically driven planter, all chains need to be checked for kinks or rust, properly lubricated and replaced if needed.
From there, I find it helpful to visualize the path that the seed is taking through the planter and think about all stages in that journey. The seed first goes through the meter. Meters should be checked and calibrated on a test stand to ensure proper seed singulation. Many MFA locations and equipment dealerships have a test stand and can calibrate planter meters.
The seed then travels down the seed tube, which should be checked for wear along with the seed tube protector. Worn parts should be replaced. A worn protector will allow contact with the disk openers, which leads to increased tube wear.
The seed then falls into the seed trench, which was cut open by the disk openers to the depth allowed by the gauge wheels. Down pressure should be set high enough to reach this desired depth, but excessive down pressure can lead to compaction. Maximum allowed disk opener wear should be ½ inch of new. For example, if a new opener is 15 inches, it should be replaced when worn under 14.5 inches.
The seed is then pressed to the bottom of the trench by a properly set firmer for best seed-to-soil contact. From there, an accurately adjusted closing wheel system will fracture the sidewall of the trench and cover the seed.
Many planters are also equipped with row cleaners, which, when correctly set, will move surface residue without disturbing the soil. Since all planters are different, I encourage consulting the owner’s manual for more specific recommendations.
Finally, slow down, and enjoy the ride. Planting too fast can counteract some of the positive adjustments that you have made to your planter.
The preparations you make now will factor into your success this growing season. If you need assistance with planter setup and evaluation, talk with the agronomy experts at your local MFA or AGChoice center. We’ll be happy to help.
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