Farm Progress

Don't let a wet spring rob your corn crop of what it’s capable of producing.

May 2, 2017

4 Min Read
COOL, WET CONDITIONS: Planting delays and soil compaction are among the top concerns for limiting corn yield. But potential yield loss can be minimized with the right equipment, now through harvest.Jason Johnson

Corn planters started slowly this spring, with rainfall keeping planting activity well behind the average pace and fueling early anxieties that a late start could unfurl into other issues that could promote yield loss later in the growing season.

And while the planter is the primary piece of equipment on farmers' minds right now, it's important to carefully manage field activity throughout the growing season to manage variability and yield loss potential when the combines run in the fall. One way to do that is to employ equipment later in the season that can help farmers react and adjust to that variability.

Planting season features a lot of factors farmers say create concern for yield loss in their corn crop. A survey of 700 corn farmers conducted by Dragotec USA shows more than 48% say delayed planting is their biggest concern among all yield-limiting factors affecting their crops. In addition, excessive moisture and soil compaction are among the top 10 variables, both of which are part of the equation of a wet spring like many farmers have faced thus far in 2017.

Leading up to May — the month when most of the Corn Belt's crop is planted­ this year — the month of April was anything but friendly to the majority of corn farmers. April brought rainfall and cooler-than-normal temperatures as the main theme of the first few weeks of planting this spring.

Dangers of playing 'catch-up' with planting
That has meant a slow start to planting, and while farmers have the equipment to plant a lot of corn fairly quickly today, the first few steps out of the starting gate could come back to haunt farmers later on in the season in the form of yield loss potential. Playing "catch-up" during planting can lead to soil compaction and other field conditions that can result in crop variability. And that can manifest later in the season as yield loss, says Dennis Bollig, a farmer near Fenton in northwest Iowa. Bollig is also president of Dragotec USA.

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"Soil compaction can absolutely blow up in a wet spring. Even with a good tillage program, your tractor is causing compaction, and a field cultivator is not going to overcome that," says Bollig, a longtime farm machinery innovator who has farmed nearly 40 years. "Compaction can cause a lot of variability within a field and ultimately lead to a challenging harvest, and wet springs like this year can cause a lot of issues with compaction."

Compaction and variability issues
Planting corn when the optimal window is closing can be a double-edged sword; on one hand, you are in a rush to get the crop in the ground, but bumping up planting speeds can sometimes lead to more compaction, regardless of the moisture and overall condition of the soil during planting. Planting late can also be a yield culprit, making it important to balance planting speed with the time you have available to get your crop in the ground. In other words, don't rush if you don't have to.

"The faster you drive with your planter, the more down pressure you need to keep the row unit on the ground. Today's high-tech planters can control down pressure better, so they're trying not to exert any more than what is needed to get the seed in the ground at the proper depth," he says. "Differences in down pressure can cause variability, and that can create microenvironments in your fields. And though planters can adjust to a lot of that variability, it still affects yield in the long run."

The right equipment is key
With the innovation that's common in today's modern planters, it's important to match that innovation with other equipment through the growing season, especially at harvest. In research trials conducted by Dragotec USA, farmers say the corn head is second only to the planter in its influence on corn yield and potential loss.

Today's planters create variability by design, with variable-rate seed populations and multi-hybrid planting adjusting planting operations to best fit the environment. The end result is a crop that gets its best start possible, but it also makes it important to employ equipment that can react to that variability later on, especially during harvest, to maximize yield potential.

"Planters are so precise now, and just when you think planters can't get more high-tech, they do," Bollig says. "When you're planting variable-rating populations, and varying the varieties and fertilizer across a field, you're creating variables at the same time. That's why it's important to have a corn head that can keep up with that planter technology and the variability it creates."

To learn more about how a Drago GT or Series II corn head can help manage variability and minimize yield loss caused by planting and early-season fieldwork, contact your local Drago dealer. Or go online to

Source: Dragotec USA


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