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Slow down to win the planting game

A slow — really slow — planting speed pays huge dividends in corn, say Steve and Scott O’Neill, two farmers and consultants from Olivia, Minn.

Slow down to win the planting game


A slow — really slow — planting speed pays huge dividends in corn, say Steve and Scott O’Neill, two farmers and consultants from Olivia, Minn.

At the recent North Dakota CornVention — a corn conference hosted by the North Dakota Corn Growers Association — the O’Neill brothers talked about a strategy to get to 300-bushel-per-acre corn yields. A key component is planting slowly, about 3 to 4 mph.

Planter test stands may show that your planter can meter corn seed accurately at 5.5 or even 7 to 8 mph, but that doesn’t take into account planter bounce, Steve says.

The slower you plant, the less variation you see in planting depth and that translates to less variation in when corn emerges.

Key Points

• Slowing down your planter may be the key to 300-bushel corn yields.

• The goal is to place seed at the same depth and same distance apart.

• The result will be that every plant will produce a full ear.


Their goal is to place every kernel at the same depth so every plant comes up at the same time. “We are shooting for 100% net effective plant stands,” Scott says.

That’s a term they have coined for the number of full ears harvested divided by targeted plant population. Each full ear of corn per 1,000 plants per acre equals about 6 bushels per acre, they figure.

The O’Neills see a wide variation in net effective stands in fields they check in the region. The seeding rate may be 30,000 plants per acre — which would equal 180 bushels per acre — but the net effective stand is sometimes only 60% to 70%.

Any corn plant that comes up later than its neighbor usually doesn’t produce a full ear, Scott says. Doubles don’t produce full ears or ears may be missing altogether. Skips reduce the number of ears per acre.

“The question you have to ask is: ‘Can you get all of your corn acres planted at 4 mph?’” Scott says. “If you can’t, buy another planter and slow down. You’ll be able to pay for it with the increase in yield.”

The O’Neills figure that each 1 mph decrease in planting speed increases yield by 20 bushels per acre.

Other practices

Other pieces of their high-yield production strategy include:

• Using three different forms of fertilizer on corn — liquid starter, dry urea applied during the growing season and anhydrous ammonia applied in the fall or spring. They say using different forms helps ensure that the crop has enough N.

• Applying fungicide to protect yield potential.

• Only using vertical tillage.

• Harvesting early. They begin combining corn when corn is 28% moisture. They aim to finish by the time corn is 18% moisture.

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Don’t overlook seed-to-soil contact

Pay more attention to seed-to-soil contact while planting corn and you’ll increase yields, says planting expert Kevin Kimberly.

He spoke at a series of planter and field preparation clinics in South Dakota this spring sponsored by the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.

Seeds that are packed properly will swell up quicker and emerge more evenly, thus increasing yield.

Not having enough down pressure on the planter is a common problem that leads to poor seed-to-soil contact, he says.

Get out of your tractor after starting to plant a field and check the seed-to-soil contact, he advises. Planting equipment often needs to be adjusted to ensure it is planting at the correct depth and packing the soil around the seeds.

In tilled fields, if there are big loose holes, leveling off the soil will help get the moisture down to the seeds.

In no-till fields, look for sidewall lift and use closing wheels to help seed make contact with soil.

Regarding trash wheels, Kimberly says there’s not one specific wheel that is best for everyone.

A Minnesotan has designed an adjustable trash wheel that uses air bags. “This will be the future,” Kimberly predicts.

Source: South Dakota Corn Growers Association


SLOW WINS: It’s a race to plant, but the highest yield prize may be to the farmer who can plant the slowest, say consultants who are shooting for 300-bushel-per-acre corn yields.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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