With corn planters, uniformity in depth and spacing both within and between rows is a precise science. With small grains (at least in Iowa), equipment with that precision isn’t really available or affordable (we’re not talking about singulation in oats, for example). Most Iowa farmers are either using conventional or no-till drills, or broadcasting seed and then incorporating it. This week in Episode 5 of “Rotationally Raised,” we zero in on when to plant, how to deep to plant, and why having a firm seedbed is so important with small grains.
Seed-to-soil contact is very important
In this week’s episode, “Planting II: Seed to Soil,” Practical Farmers of Iowa members from around the state share their perspectives on planting date, seed bed preparation and planting depth. In general, everyone agrees that it’s important to get spring small grains planted as soon as possible. Depending on soil moisture conditions, that could be anywhere from early to mid-March in southern Iowa, to late March and early April in the northern half of the state.
“If the frost is out of the ground, and the topsoil is dry, it’s time to plant,” says Dan Wilson who farms at Paullina in northwest Iowa. “We have put in oats when the snowbanks were still in the road ditches. If the soil conditions are right to plant, we’ll put them in. We just think the earlier the better.”
The same is true for winter grains like winter rye, wheat or triticale. In that case though, the limiting factor is getting the summer crop harvested—usually soybeans—so you can get the small grain planted.
Make sure you plant the seed at proper depth
Ensuring you get the seed at the depth you want is also important. “Whenever you’re planting any crop, you have to get off the tractor and see where the seed is,” says Ron Rosmann, farming near Harlan in western Iowa. “And with small grains like oats and barley, you need to be putting them in the ground about 1 to 2 inches that would probably be ideal.”
Uniformity of seeding is another factor. When seeds are in the soil at about the same depth, they’ll be more likely to emerge at the same time and maintain uniformity throughout the year. Darren Fehr of Mallard says that thinking about field preparation is one way to help accomplish a uniform stand: “Typically we’ll field cultivate once, maybe twice. Generally, that effort is just trying to get a nice, firm seedbed,” he says.
To learn more about the production of small grains in Iowa, check out Practical Farmers of Iowa’s small grains page. There, you can find research reports, production manuals, articles, blogs, conference presentations and more.
Editor’s Note: Ohde is the research and media coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa in Ames.