Stronger, healthier corn hybrids and certain soybean varieties, as well as increasing corn populations are creating more residue that takes longer to naturally decompose. And depending on where you're located, it can also be tied to climate.
“In northern climates, plant residue takes longer to break down than southern climates where you have more heat between harvest and planting,” says Precision Planting's Dustin Blunier.
To minimize interference from crop residue, growers are implementing residue management plans, some of which include row cleaners.
“Row cleaners are a significant part of the bigger issue of residue management,” says Blunier. “Residue in the trench around germinating seeds can be devastating to uniform emergence. Thus, the most important benefit of running a row cleaner is to remove residue.”
If you grow corn, Blunier says a properly set row cleaner will benefit just about every situation because not many fields are completely free of debris.
However, the biggest payoff is realized in high-residue situations.
“Corn on corn or minimum-till situations are good examples of when you have a lot of residue. Basically, the more residue in the field at planting, the greater the benefit from the row cleaner,” he says.
According to Blunier, whether or not to incorporate row cleaners comes down to the type of tillage you practice.
“What percentage of residue your tillage program leaves on the surface is going to be probably the biggest factor in how much of a need you have for row cleaners,” says Blunier. “If you have residue in and directly around the seed trench after the planter pass, you will suffer lower/uneven corn stands.”
To evaluate this, he says walk your fields now or during harvest to see if you have a lot of small-diameter stalks.
“These small-diameter stalks are from late-emerging plants that were most likely planted too shallow or had residue in the trench next to the seed,” he notes. “Even at harvest, you can still dig up the root-ball and tell if the seed was planted shallow or around residue. If the small-diameter plants appear to have been planted around residue, you would benefit greatly from properly set row cleaners.”
The next step is deciding between two types of row cleaners: fixed (rigid) and floating. How do you determine which is best for your fields?
“Simple,” says Blunier. “Select floating 90% of the time.”
He says, ideally, row cleaners should consistently ride on top of the soil, penetrating only deep enough to pick up old plant debris on and just below the soil surface.
“If they go too deep or heavy, they till the seedbed or row area and create a trench by pushing the soil out to the side of the row,” he says. “This can create uneven planting depth.”
Naturally, terrain plays a role no matter how well a field has been prepped or how flat you may think it is. That's where a floating row cleaner has the advantage over a fixed one.