Corn Planting – Attention to Detail Pays Off

Corn planting in most of the corn-belt is a once per year operation. It is an operation so critical that I would venture to say that no other action that we do during the growing season has more of an impact on final yield determination. Throughout the season, our corn acres are inflicted with numerous threats from weather, diseases, and insects that are outside of our control. I maintain that if we do everything right during the planting season, only then have we maximized the potential for final yields and minimized the potential impact of threats outside our control. If we are going to do this right, it will take planning, execution, and a great deal of attention to detail.  Here are some suggestions that focus on areas that can make the largest impact.


1) Planter and monitor adjustments and calibration – Spend the time and the money here for accurate, consistent drop. An accurate population of evenly distributed seed without doubles and skips is critical for maximum yields. Even if no changes are necessary, it is worth peace of mind to know that this will not be a yield bottleneck.

2) Wait for “fit” field conditions – Excessive soil moisture, and poor soil tilth have major impacts on seed germination, early growth, and seedling health. Soil compaction and poor seed-to-soil contact set the crop up for poor stands and weak, late emerging plants. No matter what happens the rest of the year, you have been robbed of yield potential that cannot be recovered.

3) Review hybrid positioning information – Your seed rep has provided you with a specific set of recommendations as to which products to plant where and at what density. These recommendations are based on what we know about the products and how to maximize their yield potential. A great product that is not positioned accurately may only perform as well as an average product, or worse. Avoid the “grab and go” mistakes by reviewing your notes and/or checking with your seed rep.

4) Consider ordering fungicide and applicator early – High commodity prices would tend to make us want to protect every bushel of yield potential. Foliar fungicide may not pay a high return every year, but for many products it is a very good bet especially with continuous corn acres. It won’t take many bushels to recover this extra cost this year and the potential upside could be significant.

At planting

1) Planting depth –Check your planting depth often; not just when you enter your first field but every time you begin planting in a different field condition (soil type, crop rotation, tillage type, etc.)  Each of these impact the depth of seed placement. Keeping the depth between 1.75” – 2.25” is critical to a uniform distribution of evenly growing plants as well as keeping the root system of the plants deep enough to be effective and strong.

2) Correct speed – No other way to say it. Speed kills. Planting at speeds greater than the recommended zone for your planter kills yield potential. It causes planter bounce, which effects uneven seed placement. It also dramatically increases the numbers of doubles and gaps; both of which lead to unproductive or underproductive plants. Speeding up may seem like the right thing to do as storm clouds come looming in, but weigh the fact that 10 – 20 bu. per acre yield loss is a reality and your decision could cost you $60 – $100 or more for every acre that you choose to slam in quickly.

3) Stick with hybrid placement plan – See point #3 in the pre-plant section. Enough said. As you can tell, I am a stickler about this.

There is not much here that is very profound and very little that you don’t already know. These are just reminders to help you through a very hurried and critical few weeks of spring. We only get one chance each year to set ourselves up for maximum yield potential. Let’s control the things we can control and pay attention to a few details that are sometimes overlooked. One more thing. Keep safety as a top priority at all times.

Have a safe and successful planting season.

How to Check Your Down Pressure

It’s common to think that if you are unsure of down pressure, it would be better to err on the heavy side. But farmers need to know that not using the correct amount of pressure has its setbacks.

You can observe and adjust down pressure manually, and a trip behind the planter can guide your decisions.

To manually check if you are achieving adequate ground contact:

  • Stop your planter in the toughest part of the field and leave it in the ground.
  • Grab the depth wheels and see if you can spin them.
  • One wheel should be making contact with the ground to the point where you can slip it, but it is difficult to do so.
  • If both spin free, there is not enough down pressure.
  • If you can’t slip the wheel, then there is too much down pressure.
  • You want good solid contact, but you also want to be able to slip the wheel.

Soil type, tillage system, soil moisture and planting equipment all affect how much force is needed to properly plant. As you plant different soil types and as the day progresses and soil conditions change, recheck your depth wheels. Think about the toughest parts of their fields. Those are the spots where variance in down force is needed, and the toughest parts vary from field to field.

You can also observe the effects of down pressure above ground. Walk behind your planter pass to look at the planter footprint– the depressions and imprints left by the depth wheels. The footprint of the planter can tell you what kind of down pressure is needed. If the footprint isn’t consistent, there is not enough down pressure. A very pronounced footprint means that a lot of soil was moved around by the planter and there is too much down pressure.