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Planter calibration for corn and soybeans

To boost profits, take the time to maintain and calibrate planters well in advance.

There are many variables that affect crop yield throughout the season. Some, like the weather, may be out of the farmer’s hands, but one variable that growers have control over is how the seeds are planted. When using a planter or a drill, using properly calibrated equipment can make all the difference.

Did you know that uneven plant spacing can reduce a corn harvest by up to 15 bushels an acre? Or that uneven soybean seed depth can cause significant yield losses? You can avoid these issues by making sure planters are distributing seeds as evenly and uniformly as possible. Here are a few tips on making sure your planter equipment is calibrated and ready to handle whatever situation you face in the field.

Corn: Precision counts

Research has shown that improving in-row plant spacing uniformity can increase corn yields. Inconsistent seed planting can cause problems with corn growth: uneven stands force plants to compete for light and can reduce yield. In addition, when plants do not emerge uniformly, experts estimate that the crop's yield will be reduced by 5 to 6 percent.

Making sure your planter is performing as efficiently as possible is one way to help with seed placement consistency. A planter that skips or drops extra seed can have a big impact on your profit.

Regularly inspect and replace worn-out parts, especially finger sets, brushes, backing plates, disks and coulters. This is an ideal task to schedule for the winter months. Don't wait until the last minute to check on worn-out parts, as the wait to replace them could cause a delay in planting.
In addition, calibrate your planter units on a regular basis—check your equipment manuals for recommended recalibration intervals and calibration instructions. Experts recommend that corn planters be calibrated with a goal of no greater than a 2-inch standard deviation in plant spacing. A deviation of 3 to 5 inches can cause up to a 7 to 10 bushel per acre yield loss. Calibrate your planter in conditions as close as possible to actual field conditions. Also, make sure to check and monitor the depth of the seeds planted and run at recommended speeds.

Soybean: Consider planting depth

Like corn, soybean seed can be expensive, so calibrating your planter is important to keep your seed budget under control.        
Experts recommend that soybean seeds be planted about 1 to 1.5 inches deep in moist soil. If planted seeds are too shallow, the seed could be exposed to fluctuating moisture levels nearer to the soil surface, possibly delaying emergence. If seeds are planted too deeply, it could also delay emergence, and the seedlings risk not reaching the soil surface.

With soybean, it is important for farmers to calibrate their planters based not only on the manufacturers' guidelines, but also on the conditions of the soil. Based on the conditions, the depth of the seed could change from the standard guidelines.

  • Sandy: As these soils can lose moisture quickly, seeds should be placed about 2 inches deep.
  • Clay: Heavy clay soils tend to crust, so seeds should be between 1 to 1.5 inches deep when planted in May.
  • Cool: For soils that are more cool and moist, plant seeds about 1 inch deep, as germination and seedling growth can be slower under these conditions.
  • Dry: Dry soils will typically result in slower germination, but you should still refrain from planting seeds any deeper than 2 inches. Try to delay planting until after a rainfall, and stick with the 1 to 1.5 inch guideline.

You should make sure to check on the depth of the seeds at the start of each field, and it should be changed if conditions change from field to field. Also, if you are planting late, consider increasing the soybean-seeding rate by between 10 to 20 percent, as germination might be affected.

Starting the season right

Because proper calibration can be a complex and time-consuming task, many growers maintain and calibrate their planter units through a dealer or private business. Profits from increased yields achieved by proper spacing and emergence can quickly offset the costs for maintenance and calibration by a third party.

Starting the season off with properly maintained and calibrated planters is critical to give your crops the advantage from day one. For more information on calibrating corn and soybean planters, please consult your local Southern States Agronomy Expert.

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