Before Precision Planting introduced the 20/20 Seed Sense monitor many years ago, it is likely some farmers thought corn stands were okay even though in reality, they may have rated at about 95% on singulation of kernels along the row. With modern planter technology, no matter what color or brand of planter, and with sensors that can measure and relay singulation percentages, today you’re likely achieving up to 99.5% singulation most of the time while planting corn.
Bob Nielsen, a Purdue University Extension corn specialist, began telling and showing people how much poor plant spacing could cost them in yield more than three decades ago, long before these precise tools were available. He proved it with research plots.
In 2020, Jason Webster, manager of the Precision Technology Institute near Pontiac, Ill., operated by Precision Planting, repeated a study using modern technology that confirmed Nielsen’s early findings, and assigned dollar values to the numbers if you fall short of your goal.
Webster and his crew developed a “goof” plate that caused doubles and skips in specific places. They simulated 95% singulation accuracy vs. 99.5% as the control. They began the trial in 2018. Averaged over three years, the yield loss was 2.2 bushels per acre for each 1% drop in singulation. That’s just under a 10 bushel per acre yield loss going from 99.5% to 95% singulation accuracy. That’s roughly a 5% yield loss for 200 bushel per acre corn, which is in the ballpark of what Nielsen estimated you could lose in his studies decades ago.
At $3.75 per bushel corn, that’s giving up $37.75 per acre. Or put another way, if you’re only achieving 95% singulation now and make improvements to reach 99.5%, you pick up $37.75 per acre. At $4 per bushel corn, you could improve gross income by nearly $40 per acre by making that same improvement in planting accuracy.
Run the numbers
If you raise 1,000 acres of corn, that’s up to $40,000 you could pick up in one year just for doing a better job of planting corn.
Suppose you have a monitor that displays singulation and you’re typically at 97.5%. That means if you can tweak the planter and move to 99.5%, you could still pick up nearly 4.5 bushels per acre, or $18 more per acre at $4 per bushel corn.
Conversely, if you normally hit 99.5% but something isn’t up to par, and singulation drops to 98%, can you afford to continue planting? Or should you stop and diagnose the problem? Weather conditions and planting date may enter the equation.
But based just on these results of planter accuracy alone, if you continue running you could expect to give up about 3.3 bushels per acre, or roughly $13 in gross revenue per acre at the end of the year. If you finish the day and plant 100 more acres before addressing the issue, the study says you could be giving up $1,300 because of less accurate plant spacing.
It still may not be an easy decision some days, but it gives you a framework for making a more informed decision.