After Christmas and the First Day of Planting, there is probably no single day each year that is filled with more anticipation than the day that our crops emerge. This week on Monday, Mike did an excellent job talking about what it takes to get our corn seed out of the ground successfully from a moisture, GDU, and seeding depth perspective. But we really didn’t spend a lot of time talking about how to make sure we accomplish some of those things from a management aspect, so today, I want to dive into that.
So obviously, like so many things in agriculture, some of this is out of control. We aren’t going to have any control how quickly we accumulate GDU’s. With the exception of irrigation, we have no control over the seed getting the moisture that it needs to begin life. So that really only leaves us with control over seeding depth. But before I go into that, perhaps we need to step back and understand how much uneven emergence matters. Research from the 70’s says that yield decreases 5% every day that a plants emergence is delayed after the average emergence depth. Taken even further, 2002 research says a plant has 2.3% yield loss every day it emerges behind its neighbor.
So getting our crop to come up in a 24 hour window is a very important step in maximizing our yield for the season. Planting in the right conditions is very important to achieve this. Studies from seed companies show that planting 3 weeks late in good conditions has less effect on yield than a plan coming up 2 days after its nearest neighbor. So, the single most important step we can take to have good emergence and maximized yield is planting in good conditions. But then, there are some things we can do from a mechanical standpoint to set ourselves up for success.
The single most important thing we can do to ensure consistent emergence is to make sure we have consistent planting depth. Consistent planting depth comes down to the row unit having good ride quality. Step one for good ride quality starts with residue management. If our trash cleaners are struggling to do their job, they will force our rows to bounce. That bounce destroys seeding depth. So you need to set the residue managers to operate properly several times per day. That means moving them manually, or having a remote system like CleanSweep to do the job.
But then we also need to control the row unit itself. We need adequate weight to hold the gauge wheels against the ground, but not so much that we smear the trench wall with our opening disks. I could elaborate on the how’s and why’s, but it really comes down to a good downforce system. I could mince words, but unless we are using a hydraulic downforce, I guarantee we are giving up yield in most fields. Obviously some fields are worse than others, but at the end of the day, everything we just talked about can be controlled, or at the very least mitigated by Hydraulic Downforce.
And really, that is the take home for the day. 20 years ago every planter was ground driven, then 5 years ago 95% where hydraulic drives. Now electric drives are beginning to take over the market. 20 years ago every planter had springs, then air bags, and soon Hydraulic Downforce systems will dominate the market. Not all of the yield increase we have seen in the last 20 years has been from genetics. Agronomics has played a big part as well, and every year it all starts with the planter.