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Making every seed count

Agriculture.com Staff 03/15/2010 @ 2:01pm

"Well, duh, Kevin," I jokingly replied.

Obviously, we had to reshoot that part of the interview thanks to my smart-aleck remark. But I knew exactly what Kimberley was getting at.

The yield potential on next fall's corn and soybean crop is set by how well that seed is placed in the soil this spring. The research on this topic is undisputable. Failing to consistently place seed at its ideal depth while precisely spacing seed (particularly corn) to create picket-fence stands slashes yields by 3% to 5% -- before the crop has even emerged.

What prompted this special effort were Kimberley's fears that farmers are going to cut corners on planter maintenance this winter. "I can understand the reasoning," he sympathizes. "Seed costs are through the roof; fertilizer isn't much better. Certainly fuel isn't getting cheaper. So you're looking at several thousands in planter replacement parts this winter wondering if this is the spring to get by."

Perish the thought, he urges. Field tests by numerous universities and seed companies warn that poorly maintained planters that are not adjusted during the season can, conservatively, rob you of 2 to 7 bushels per acre in corn yield potential.

"Conservatively," Kimberley says, "I have seen seed meters I'll guarantee were costing the farmer who owned them a minimum of 10 bushels -- upwards to 20 bushels -- per acre because they were in such sad shape," he says. "And these meters came from top-notch farms, not the local slob operator."

Then, too, last spring was tough on planters in many parts of the country. Wet conditions had a great many seeders sitting out in the rain precipitating rust inside seed meters. Muddy conditions wore down double disk openers, depth gauge wheels, and packer wheels. Washouts and rills banged row units about, bending parallel linkages and spreading down-pressure springs.

"I noticed far more rusty seed meters this winter," Kimberley notes. He inspects, rebuilds, and calibrates hundreds of meters each year.

So he urges farmers to spend the time and money getting their planters operating dead-on accurate this winter. And then, come spring, take a bit more time to check the planter's adjustments in the soil.

"Walk your planter every day and look to adjust it as the season wears on," Kimberley advises.

With your planter fully loaded, operate it for at least 100 feet. Take a walk around the planter and check these 7 key points.

  1. Get a knife out and measure seed spacing and depth at several locations along each row and down every other row.
  2. Make sure the planter's toolbar is tilted slightly backward and that its height is set to manufacturer's recommendations. When walking toward the planter from behind the implement, crouch down to see that the tops of row units are level.
  3. Check that the parallel linkage is level.
  4. If you are employing cutting coulters, measure that they are running 1/4 inch above the double-disk openers.
  5. Try spinning the depth gauge wheels. They need to be in firm contact with the soil, but you should still be able to turn the wheels by hand.
  6. Check that closing wheels are tracking on either side of the furrow and are making collapsing sidewalls against the seed.
  7. Finally, when you start back in planting, watch row cleaners to see that they are sweeping aside residue but little soil.

Successful Farming magazine's Planter Doctor, Kevin Kimberley, and I were finishing up our first day of shooting video for a 30-minute TV special when Kimberley announced, with particular emphasis, "Dave, your entire crop all starts with the seed."

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