By Don Donovan
Harvest 2018 is nearly over, and planning for the 2019 crop year will be in full swing before you know it. Are you thinking about moving to less tillage, or maybe even switching to no-till, in your operation? If you’re relying on your planter as your only pass through the field in the spring, that planting operation must be as fail-proof as possible.
Tillage can cover up serious flaws in a planter that no-till will expose very quickly. Those flaws could lead to reduced yield. Long-term no-till farmers across Indiana will testify that their success is highly dependent on their planter. If you plan to use your existing no-till planter next season, go over it with a fine-tooth comb as soon as possible.
Your goal is a perfect stand of corn, with every seed at the same depth and spacing, so every seed is in the exact same soil moisture and temperature environment — so it hopefully all comes up evenly. Uneven emergence can lead to some plants acting like weeds. Not only is even emergence important from a cost-of-seed standpoint, but it’s also vital so plants will pollinate evenly.
The goal is that every plant in the field emerges within 36 hours of one another. If so, then every stalk will be ready to pollinate at the same time. Yield loss can be experienced from the day of planting if poor emergence is experienced.
You may need to replace springs, bushings and/or double disk openers, or you may need to add row cleaners or change closing wheels. In some cases, you may need to consider trading planters.
If you feel uncomfortable checking the planter yourself, ask a local successful no-till and cover crop farmer to stop by and do a walkaround. Ask him or her to look over those important details on the planter that will make your no-till or high-residue planting system more successful. Allow time to discuss these things.
Even if you’re only transitioning to planting no-till into soybean residue or cornstalks or adding cover crops, you may have to make changes. However, you’ll need to make considerable changes to move to planting green into standing cover crops. To successfully plant into standing covers requires that every part of your planter is operating optimally for those conditions. It’s not recommended if it’s your first year with cover crops.
While less tillage and no-till planting are greatly encouraged by conservation proponents and others, note that this is better accomplished with some planning a year or two out, rather than simply making the decision to use a no-till planter. A few of the numerous items that should be considered prior to planting no-till include: improving drainage where needed, providing proper soil pH and soil fertility, and improving soil biology.
Spend the time and the money this winter to get your planter ready for spring, no matter what system you use. Remember that your success will depend on your planter doing the best job it can. Make sure the planter is the very best piece of equipment on your farm.
Donovan is a soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, based in Parke County, Ind. He writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.