I break into this regularly scheduled article for just a quick minute to talk about something we did at the RD Innovation Site near Bellwood last week. Thanks to Mother Nature and this planting delay, a few of us were engaged in a discussion about what to do either park the planters or go. We did both, on April 17th I planted 12 rows of corn at the site as I was trying to get the planter set right then it rained and I moved on, on April 26th I went in and planted 24 rows more next to it and down the middle of the Demo site and finally my plan is to go in and finish it here in the next week or so when the conditions are fit. The soil temperatures were 58, 43, and TBD respectively for the corresponding planting dates. Sometime after that I will go in and perform the postmortem you will read below and we will talk about what the impacts of those three planting dates could be. And now back to your regularly scheduled article.
A Planting Postmortem
When I started this article ten days ago or so, I knew that I’d be addressing an audience in various stages of planting, some of you started, some of you not, some of you finished, most of you not. But then, well—weather happens. Sometimes horrible weather happens. So more of you are barely started than I was initially anticipating, but its okay! It still works. Calm down everyone.
This is a primer on conducting a postmortem of your planting operation. One day soon—sooner than it feels right now—you’re going to be standing on the edge of a field turning green with thousands of little plants. When that happens, you’re going to bend down and take a close up look-see for a first stand evaluation. What you see is going to contain some important information for you about your planting operation and any problems you recognize will contain within them clues as to their origin be it issues with your planter or problems caused by conditions.
And when we know the issues and their cause, we can fix them.
Your first opportunity to conduct a stand evaluation is your first opportunity to reevaluate yield potential, important for making the best decisions going forward. Your first stand evaluation provides data—and the right data to calculate your NESP, everyone’s favorite math problem.
The NESP is important as it comments on the quality of your stand. To calculate it, follow these simple steps and read on:
First, count the total number of plants in 1/1000 acre foot of a row.
Next, go back over the same 1/1000 acre foot and count the plants that are two collars behind the rest. These are the late emergers (by about 48 hours) and they pretty much count as weeds. Sorry, little plants. Subtract this number from your total.
Then, go back over the same 1/1000 acre foot once more, this time counting poorly spaced plants. Subtract this number from your total as well.
You’ll end with a number that is your total minus late emergers minus poorly spaced plants. Divide this number by your initial total to obtain your NESP.
And use all of this data!
Compare your NESP to your yield goal. Do they jive or do they seem a mismatch? If they’re mismatched, don’t just shrug it off. Adjust your yield goal going forward so that your actions match the true possibility that exists in your fields.
Look back at those late emerges and dig a few up. For comparison, dig up a “normal” plant or two as well. How deep are they planted? Are they planted at the same depth? Are there any signs of compaction underneath the seed or in the walls of the trench? Was there adequate seed to soil contact? Problems in any of these areas might indicate issues with your planter—things that we can fix for next year. (So take notes, friends.)
If you notice along the way seeds that didn’t come up, this is likely due to conditions. A little more digging here could reveal if the plant unfurled in the ground or germinated and turned back, among other things. You have little control over these things—unlike issues caused by your planter, over which you have much control—but the info is good nonetheless. You might also take note of any insect or animal damage you find—all data.
If you’re still skeptical of the importance of the NESP, we’ll be playing around with it on our demo sites this season to show how it can inform the success of your crop. If perhaps you’re past skepticism but unsure how to interpret or use your NESP, let us know. It truly is the starting point for optimizing nitrogen, both for agronomic and economic purposes, and is the basis for the most successful season possible.