Perfectly placed seeds
Not even the strongest, most technologically advanced seed can contribute one iota to a successful corn crop unless it's placed in the ground where and when it needs to be.
With specific adjustments to their planters, two Corn Belt farmers and members of this year's Crop Tech Tour have taken new steps to more effectively deliver their seed, thereby, helping improve their chances of a bumper crop come harvest.
Both farmers are turning comprehensive knowledge of their fields into modifications to their implements that help solve problems unique to their respective landscapes.
Trying to get the most out of his fields, Gary Fulk runs big equipment on his 4,000- to 5,000-acre corn and soybean farm in south-central Illinois. Make that big, precision-driven equipment.
It once took two months to plant the crops with two planters, Fulk says. "Our new 48-row planter has made us more timely on planting corn. Plus, we make fewer passes over the field."
Fulk believes in planting corn early. With that big of a planter, who could wait to use the mammoth.
"I have planted in late March. If the ground conditions are perfect, you plant," he says. "In the early 1990s, I started planting early, and I haven't changed since. Anything planted after May 1, you start losing yield."
The Assumption, Illinois, farmer makes no bones about his goal to reach maximum yield. To help get there, he adjusted his 48-row planter to drop seed in 22-inch rows.
Increasing plant spacing has produced healthier stalks and better standibility, according to Travis Dollarhide, Fulk's crop consultant. The plant population, though initially to be increased, has remained between 34,000 and 35,000 seeds per acre.
"The adjustment in spacing has made better ears on the healthier stalks, resulting in better yields," Fulk says. With an odd-spaced planter, Fulk has a specially-made corn head for his combine.
Meanwhile, as an early adopter of triple-stacked corn, he selects hybrids for maximum economic return. Because the European corn borer and western corn rootworm are prevalent, Fulk sees the importance of selective seed choices.
Fulk is also introducing the use of fungicide to control late-season diseases. In a year of high prices and higher yields, it's easier to justify the extra costs of fungicide.
In addition, Fulk has a high percentage of corn-after-corn acres. Therefore, row cleaners have been added to his planter. The cleaners are designed to sweep the trash away from the row.
"The cleaners help to avoid root-balls from last year's stalks, and they make for a nicer seedbed," says Dollarhide. "The cleaners are mounted on the front of the planter and have spiked wheels to remove trash."
Almost all of Tom Muhr's cornfields near Exira, Iowa, are in rolling hills or bottom ground. Every row is a point row.
This used to make it difficult to control seed flow when planting, since with each pass, every row ended at a different point. Being able to watch all the rows and shut off seed flow almost required more hands and eyes than he has.