Sometimes, I feel a bit like a broken record. It seems like I tout the same point to you again and again. But when I do, there’s a reason for it. And, inevitably, the reason is, that it’s imperative from an agronomic standpoint. As we get this crop out of the ground and begin to do stand counts, I want to challenge you to look deeper than just the number of plants that you have in the field.
If you are a regular reader of Mike’s Reachout blog, then you are familiar with the term Net Effective Stand Percentage, or NESP. I am not going to rehash it today, but in short, it is the percentage of viable plants that you have after you remove doubles, skips, and late emerges from your target population. Agronomically, this number is hugely important in decision factor throughout the season, and that is a topic for another time and place. But just as important, and often overlooked is what it says about our planter performance. A few weeks ago, I talked about these same issues from a preparation standpoint, but today, I want to look at them again from an evaluation aspect.
So let’s start with the easiest one, our spacing quality. If we are seeing seeds that are unevenly spaced, what that usually means is that you have seed bouncing down the seed tube instead of sliding down it. Every time a seed bounces, we lose about 1 inch of spacing quality. There are a few ways we can improve this problem. First, we can slow down to improve the row units ride quality. If you are someone who plants faster than 5.5 mph, I am talking to you. But if you are a slower planter, then the next thing we need to look at is your downforce system. Springs bounce more than airbags, and airbags more than hydraulics. If spacing quality is a consistent issue in your stand, we may need to evaluate your downforce system to look at what kind of economic gains we can realistically expect. Finally, there is always technology like speed tubes that will deliver our seed to the furrow directly where we want it. Using them should eliminate issues in spacing. But remember, if you planted in wet conditions, and used a seed firmer, that could also be the culprit of poor spacing.
Skips and doubles are fairly easy to figure out, either you have a seed size that didn’t work well with your meter, which will be indicated if the issue is consistent everywhere in an area, or went away with a hybrid change. Our other culprit is the meter itself, and it can be split into two areas, seed treatments, and coatings, or meter performance. Again, if we see the problem stay with one row, or the consistency of the problem stay consistent with the row number, that is a meter problem, one we need to identify with meter testing. Seldom do we think to do it, but testing and repairing your meters after planting and before storage is a better option than waiting for spring. It is one less headache next year and ensures proper storage this winter. But if our skips and doubles are consistent across the planter, we may be looking at the need for more talc, graphite, or a seed treatment that doesn’t work well with your planter.
And so, as we reach this milestone in the season, now is the time for us to do a bit of forensic work for the year. Yes, it’s hard to do everything right in the rush of the planting season. It’s easy to make the same mistakes again next year. The beauty of evaluating your stand now is we can identify what the problem is, and how to fix it for the future. I encourage you to work with your ACS specialist or FSA to take these steps now, because we have time to evaluate the financials or all of your options and make the best plan we can for next year.