Preparing for #Plant24

Apr 01, 2024


Mike Tufte
Seed Specialist


Looking at the Variables and Setting Up for Success

Whether you are reaching for that 300-bushel farm average or simply trying to improve your APH (Actual Production History), it requires some planning. From fertility, to seed selection and planting, to pest control, each aspect must be dialed in. You’ve been working with your agronomist since last harvest and have gotten your fertility right where it needs to be. Now it’s April and time (or almost time) to get that seed in the ground.
 
I know I sound like a broken record, but you only get one shot at this. Seed bed prep and planting are some of the MOST important factors (that we can control) in how the crop will perform. There are a lot of factors and variables out there, but I think we can all agree that we want the best conditions possible to set our corn up for success. The question is, how do we do that?
 
  
“C.T.C: Conditions, Temperature Trend, and Calendar. That is the order of priority.” - Ben Hollingshead, Kelley Sales Agronomist, CPAg
 


Planting Conditions
Conditions are very important when it comes to corn. Corn will germinate in two separate phases. First the kernel will take in about 30 percent of its weight in water. The kernel does not care what temperature that water is; if it’s there, the kernel will absorb it. This causes the seed to swell up. The second phase is the actual act of shooting the radicle and the coleoptile. This is dependent on soil temperature. It takes a constant soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate this phase. If we plant too early and let that kernel sit there full of water, we risk imbibitional chilling (which I spoke about in my last article), uneven emergence, or even seed rot. Knowing this, we want to wait until soil conditions are where they need to be.

Temperature Trends
Temperature trends are also something to investigate. This is Iowa, and we know anything can happen. One day it’s beautiful, sunny and 75 degrees. The next it’s overcast and dipping below freezing. As I look at the extended forecast, it looks like it’ll be a little bit of a rollercoaster. Most days warm up nicely, but some evenings cool down just as much. We may be teetering around 50 degree soil temps during the days, but what happens at nighttime? Do you have cooler days in your near forecast? If you look at your history, what type of trends do you notice? It’s important to be mindful of the historical data and recognize that each year is different. If your forecast looks a little questionable, it might be worth it to wait, even if your ground temps are currently at 50 degrees.

Calendar Date
Finally, the calendar date wraps up Ben’s list of priorities. We all stare at it. We all see April is here and think, “it’s go-time!” That may not necessarily be the case. A few weeks ago, we were staring at a nice “false spring.” Temperatures were great and we were getting spring fertility taken care of. I spoke to several people who felt like they were a month behind schedule. In all reality, they were a month ahead of schedule. The date on the calendar fooled us. Or should I say Mother Nature was trying to fool us. My point is the calendar does not always agree with Mother Nature. It doesn’t tell the whole story. The old days of planting your potatoes by the 10th of April have evolved into planting when conditions are suitable. Iowa State University has done several studies on planting dates over the years. They have found that, on average, optimal yields come from corn planted between April 11th and May 18th. That is a rather large window, so take it with a grain of salt. Each area will be different, so we MUST rely on soil conditions rather than the calendar!
 

Courtesy of Iowa State University. 

Seed Depth
There are other factors to consider while planting, besides just timing. One of them being seed depth.
 

“It’s very important to make sure our planting depth is set correctly. With it being on the drier side this year, we want to make sure we are getting that seed into good moisture. This might mean we have to plant a little deeper than usual.”
 - Alex Branderhorst, Sully Sales Agronomist, CCA

 

If you were to ask 100 different agronomists from different areas what depth they like corn planted at, you’d get a few different answers. For the most part, I hear a lot of “1 ½ to 2 inch” or “2 to 3 inch” responses. Personally, I have always been a fan of planting corn 2 inches deep for the most part. There is no right or wrong answer for everyone. The answer is more so based on your moisture level. Find that level and then make sure you check your depth every so often to verify that you’re where you need to be. I typically like to throw my knife across the furrow and even it out to measure down, for a more accurate reading.


Corn will imbibe water within 24 - 48 hours of being planted if it has access to it. If we plant too shallow, outside the moisture zone, a few things can happen. The seed furrow can struggle to close, and this prevents having good soil to seed contact. Without that nice tight contact, we aren’t getting optimal transfer of moisture to the seed. Now there are some newer studies that show a seed can uptake just as much moisture through vapor, but I’ve not experienced that in the real world. Your closing wheels could also be compacting the soil under the seed rather than around it. This could potentially cause some sidewall compaction. Chances are, we will get a less than ideal stand in the event that either happens.

Root Development
Another problem we can run into is lack of root development. Nodal roots typically form about an inch above the seed, or whenever the plant senses sunlight. If that seed is too shallow, nodal roots can form right at (or above) the soil surface. Given that we are dry, the seed won’t have moisture to help keep it cool. This can cause rootless corn syndrome. Although this problem is related to planting too shallow, it can easily be mistaken for insect feeding. These issues early on can be the culprit of a poor stand and/or a later root lodge event.

Given all this information, it’s easy to see that we ideally want to be planting into soil moisture. If we don’t have adequate moisture at 2 inches, it may be wise to explore planting a little deeper. It’s crucial to place the seed at a depth of adequate and uniform moisture. We want all the seed to emerge in a 12-hour window. Anything outside of that window becomes a weed and steals nutrition from the plants that are fighting to put on a viable ear.

Seed Spacing
Speaking of plants stealing nutrition, there is one more aspect of planting I wanted to touch base on. It is part of the trifecta in Brandon Hansen’s eyes.
 

“I think proper soil conditions, proper seed depth, and proper seed spacing are all keys to a great start!”
- Brandon Hansen, S14 Sales Agronomist, CCA

 


We’ve already touched on the first two. Let’s dive deeper into the latter. Seed spacing is something that we might take for granted. We know spacing will change as we fluctuate our populations, and that’s not what I’m concerned about. What I’m concerned about are doubles and skips.

Doubles are never pretty, but they aren’t as detrimental. If we have good growing conditions, doubles can actually help us increase our yield sometimes. But that’s only if we have good growing conditions. Let’s say we have a hot and dry season. Those doubles will be fighting for moisture and nutrients all season long. Chances are that at least one of them, if not both, will be a runt pig without a viable ear. Skips on the other hand are a missed opportunity. It doesn’t take many skips to start effecting yield.

Few and far between are the days of full-flex hybrids. Back in those days, you could have skips out there and the neighboring cobs would make up for it. As breeding has improved over the years/generations, we are seeing more semi-flex and determinate ears. They are great at driving yield potential and test weight, but rarely make up for the previously mentioned “missed opportunities.” This makes the spacing factor even more important for an ideal bumper crop. 

Singulation
If you took a test and came home with a 90 percent, you got an A. You’d feel pretty good about it, as you should. It’s a passing grade. The same can be said about corn stands. Are you getting a 90 percent on your stand? Do you wish that whatever you’re getting was better? If you do, singulation and/or seed spacing could be a factor.

I say singulation and/or seed spacing because they are not always mutually exclusive. Singulation is the machine’s ability to drop one seed at a time. It is a mechanical process. Spacing can be the result of many things including speed, static electricity and singulation, among others. The two most common factors of poor spacing are singulation and planter speed. Planter speed is often the culprit of poor singulation. 

Planting Speed
As I’ve said in the past, I’m a fan of slow and steady. Technology today has given us the ability to plant corn at 10 mph. But have you ever heard the phrase, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should?” I don’t think we need to be planting at the old 3.8 - 4.2 mph anymore, but am not entirely sold on the maximum 10 mph, either. Iowa State has done some testing on the effects of planter speed on plant spacing. The results show that the faster a planter moves, the lower accuracy it has.

The graph below is Iowa State’s summary of corn skips for conventional and high-speed planting units. They conclude that, “conventional planters significantly increase the number of skips as planter speed increases. High speed planters are able to maintain a low level of skips at all speeds up to 10 mph.” Iowa State notes that, “High speed data presented includes both Precision Planting SpeedTube and John Deere ExactEmerge which both produce similar corn spacing results."
 

Courtesy of Iowa State University. 

Although there is minimal difference in the high-speed planter’s ability to singulate, I still question how fast we need to be going. It’s a field-by-field decision. If we find ourselves in a field with rocks and rugged terrain, we may see that difference climb a little, simply due to planter bounce. On the conventional planter side, there is definitely a speed of diminishing returns.

Planter Set Up
As we look at planters and the effects of speed, we must remember that each style is different. The conventional plate planter will likely have more skips at higher speeds. On the opposite side, finger planters usually plant a little thicker at higher speeds. They don’t possess the means to eliminate doubles and triples very well. Again, nobody knows your machine as well as you do. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide where that “sweet spot” is.

If you have questions about your planter setup, reach out to your CENTROL Precision Ag Specialist. They can help you make sure that everything from your meters to drop tubes, down pressure and closing wheels are all set up correctly and working properly.

Conclusion
Farming is not an easy sport. It’s a ginormous puzzle that fits differently for everyone. There are so many variables to pay attention to and details matter more than the average (non-ag) person realizes. At the end of the day, we’re all after bushels. If we plan ahead, we are a step ahead. Mother Nature can still throw us some curve balls, so we must pay attention and react accordingly. With proper soil conditions, depth and spacing, you are setting yourself up for the best possible outcome.

It’s almost that time of year. Give your planting equipment one more once-over, be patient, and most importantly BE SAFE out there. Happy planting, friends!

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