ReachOut: Speed Kills

ReachOut: Speed Kills from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

Passionate isn’t a word I throw around lightly.

So when I tell you that I’m passionate about corn planters, you’d better believe it.  They make me feel like George Patton standing in front of Old Glory.

Which also means that sometimes, corn planter discussions send me into a full tilt soapbox rant.

As we quickly approach the 2014 growing season (number what for you of your 40 seasons?) I want to talk about your planter.  I’ll spare you, friends, from a total Mike Zwingman harangue, but like I said, I am passionate about this stuff, so here we go…

When we talk about yield, we talk about plant population as the main driver.  But what if you had a tremendous plant population with no ears?  You would have what we in the business would call a field of weeds.  Because though it may seem a little silly, it truly isn’t plant population that drives yield, but ear population.  It is the consistent quantity and quality of ears per acre that ultimately determines your final haul.

So how do you maximize ear consistency?

Well, fancy you might ask.

It’s all about physics, namely speed, and speed kills.  In stock cars, more speed equals more down force, but a planter isn’t a stock car.  Let me repeat: a planter isn’t a stock car.  Speed in a planter actually robs it of down force, which results in seeds being improperly placed in the ground.  Speed in a planter also causes spring rate, which has a bad effect on the big, important spring that makes your planter work.  Your goal as the driver of a planter should be zero spring rate, the rate at which your machine will run precisely and efficiently and smooth as silk.

So for Pete’s sake, slow down, people.

The ideal planting speed falls somewhere between 4-4.5 mph.  At such a speed, you won’t have to worry about spring rate and your row unit won’t bounce.  Bounce begins a domino effect of bad things—uneven seed depth leads to uneven emergence leads to uneven ear size and boom! what would have otherwise been a perfectly nice corn plant suddenly becomes a weed, a mooch, a dude on your couch who eats your potato chips and watches your cable.  All because of bounce.


At 4 mph, your planter is traveling 5.86 feet per second.  At a population of 30,600 plants per acre in 30 inch rows, this means that your planter is dropping 2.09 seeds per second per row.  That’s one penny per second per row that your planter is sinking into the ground.  With a 12 row planter, that’s 12 cents per second going into the ground, or $7 per minute.  At 4 mph, you are putting a venti mocha latte from Starbucks into the ground each minute.

The point being that that’s a big investment.  And, friends, if you’re going to put a venti mocha latte into the ground each minute, I want you to put those venti mocha lattes where they count.  Where they will do you the most good.  Which is exactly what happens at 4 mph.
Header1At 4 mph, those lattes will grow into perfectly spaced, perfectly consistent corn plants which produce perfectly consistent ears both in terms of quantity and quality.  Therein lies your most awesome yield.

Nothing is more important to the success of your season than consistent ear size, so get yourself off to a good start this spring: put on that good classic rock, put the Red Bull down, and take it easy on the gas pedal, friends.  You’ll be happy you did come August.