Smart farmers

Background

Minimising planting variability improves corn yields

Field demonstrations show that corn yields improve when seed spacing, depth and planter unit downforce pressure are optimised for soil and growing conditions.

This can be concluded after 3 years of the so-called AGCO Crop Tour North America field demonstrations. This on-farm demonstration program provided hands-on education to help producers across the Midwest better understand equipment function and improve planting practices.

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The AGCO on-farm demonstration program provided hands-on education to help producers across the Midwest better understand equipment function and improve planting practices. - Photos: AGCO
The AGCO on-farm demonstration program provided hands-on education to help producers across the Midwest better understand equipment function and improve planting practices. - Photos: AGCO

20 Crop Tour demonstration plots

From 2016 through 2018, 20 Crop Tour demonstration plots were planted using White Planters VE Series planters equipped with vSet seed metering, vDrive electronic drive, DeltaForce automated downforce, plus 20|20 monitoring and data management from Precision Planting.

AGCO compared the timing of plant emergence, season-long plant progress and yield due to intentional differences in seeding depth, seed spacing and downforce pressure across the 10-acre plots. Location variability due to soil types, seedbed quality, compaction and tillage practices was also considered.

Return on investment for growers

“Uniform corn emergence is the most critical factor in optimising corn yields,” says Darren Goebel, agronomist and director of global agronomy and farm solutions for AGCO. “At each location, we mapped the intentional planting variations, then evaluated seedling emergence, monitored crop progress, dug roots, and collected yield data to illustrate to growers how ideal planting practices deliver a real return on investment for growers.”

6 planting depths

The Crop Tour project compared corn plant performance at 6 planting depths ranging from 1 inch to 3.5 inches. Soil moisture also was noted. The Crop Tour data confirmed that planting into adequate, consistent soil moisture is essential to ensure consistent germination and even emergence. The comparisons also showed that planting into adequate moisture at depths from 1.5 to 3 inches optimised corn yields1.

Darren Goebel:

When soil moisture is an issue, the data supports making adjustments and planting at least 1.5 inches deep and up to 3 inches deep to be sure seed is in consistent moisture

Across 16 locations, seed planted 1.5 inches deep yielded an average 142 more bushels per acre than seed planted 1 inch deep. Conversely, when corn was planted 3 inches deep, average yield was 102 bushels per acre higher compared to corn planted 3.5 inches deep. Stand reduction and uneven emergence were observed at the 3.5-inch depth.

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Development of the nodule roots

It is also important to note university agronomy research shows it is difficult for corn planted less than 1.5 inches deep to establish a vigorous nodal or crown root system. Planting conditions that stunt or restrict early development of the nodule roots impact the entire plant’s development.

“When soil moisture is an issue, the data supports making adjustments and planting at least 1.5 inches deep and up to 3 inches deep to be sure seed is in consistent moisture,” Goebel explains.

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Monitor planter activity and adjust for soil conditions

“These demonstrations show how technology allows the producer to monitor planter activity and adjust for soil conditions to achieve more consistent seed depth across an entire field,” Goebel says. “Growers who add optional DeltaForce automatic downforce to their White Planters also see the benefit of minimising row unit bounce which can effect seed depth and spacing.”

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  • 20|20 mapping shows the required downforce applied...

    20|20 mapping shows the required downforce applied...

  • ...to achieve the corresponding gauge wheel weight. This illustrates that individual row units must be adjusted independently to ensure uniform depth control while avoiding soil compaction in the row.

    ...to achieve the corresponding gauge wheel weight. This illustrates that individual row units must be adjusted independently to ensure uniform depth control while avoiding soil compaction in the row.

Differences in downforce control measured

Across 19 locations, DeltaForce automatic downforce was used to compare ideal gauge wheel downforce to downforce settings that were too heavy and too light. Corn planted using automatic downforce control, which adjusts on the go to field conditions, yielded 163 bushels per acre more than corn planted with downforce that was too light and 23 bushels per acre more than corn planted with downforce that was too heavy. On average, planters equipped with DeltaForce improved yield by 93 bushels per acre.

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Other observations from the AGCO Crop Tour comparisons include:

The need for downforce pressure on gauge wheels varies in different tillage systems and as soil types change within a field.
Additional downforce is needed as seeding depth increases and planter speeds increase.
Central-fill planters need more downforce on the wings to maintain adequate gauge-wheel-to-ground contact.
“Traditional spring-type downforce on planters doesn’t adjust on the go like the DeltaForce, which is continually measuring ground contact for the proper gauge wheel pressure,” Goebel says. “Growers can adjust their air bag systems from the tractor cab, but it’s difficult to adjust accurately as conditions vary across a field. These don’t offer the convenience of real-time automatic downforce control, which is possible with the hydraulics in DeltaForce.”

Seed singulation accuracy adds 5 bushels per acre

In the seed singulation studies, AGCO compared singulation that was 93.3 percent accurate to seed singulation that was 99.6 percent accurate and planted using the vSet and vDrive technology. Across 17 sites, nearly perfect seed singulation produced an average 5-bushel-per-acre3 yield advantage.

Goebel points out that data across more than 6,000 acres showed that White Planters 9800VE Series planters equipped with a SpeedTube, which allows planting at up to 10 miles per hour, achieved an average 99.6 percent spacing accuracy.

No yield differences

“There were no yield differences when planting at 5 miles per hour compared to 10 miles per hour,” Goebel says. “This is important when planting windows are short due to adverse weather conditions or as farming operations get larger and growers need to plant more acres during the optimal planting window.”

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The AGCO Crop Tour demonstrated the impact of skips and doubles caused by inaccurate seed singulation. The extra plant becomes a weed, competing for nutrients and moisture. Crop Tour findings demonstrated that a 1% decline in singulation accuracy results in a yield loss of approximately 1 bushel per acre.
The AGCO Crop Tour demonstrated the impact of skips and doubles caused by inaccurate seed singulation. The extra plant becomes a weed, competing for nutrients and moisture. Crop Tour findings demonstrated that a 1% decline in singulation accuracy results in a yield loss of approximately 1 bushel per acre.

New SmartFirmer technology tested in 2018 demonstration fields

In a select number of demonstration fields, the new SmartFirmer seed firmer from Precision Planting was used. SmartFirmer uses sensors in the seed furrow to continuously measure and map organic matter, soil moisture, soil temperature, CEC (cation exchange capacity) and crop residue so growers can adjust factors like planting depth in real-time to better match their soil conditions while planting.
“The SmartFirmer allows producers to see the furrow moisture levels in real time, so they can change planting depth as needed as they move through a field,” says Goebel. “Generally, producers have to get out of the cab to check soil moisture when planting and that’s not practical or effective.” Having high resolution maps of organic matter and CEC captured using SmartFirmers also will provide in field management zone information to guide variable rate decisions.

Also read: Automatic seed depth adjustment based on moisture

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