It’s not too early to prep planters to roll this spring or to formulate your spring soil preparation strategy. Here are some tips for working through both:
1. Check planter mechanics. If you haven’t already, take your seed-metering units to your local planter equipment dealer to check that the appropriate number of seeds are being dispatched at any given speed. Whether you have a finger pickup planter or a vacuum model, this is a critical step to ensure it is properly calibrated.
Once you can take your planter outside, usually in late March or early April, check liquid fertilizer attachments for wear, loose bolts or shifted placement from last season. These attachments can sometimes move around, which can place fertilizer too close to the seed and cause damage. Flush out any product remaining in the attachments from last year. Also check that inline strainers or screens are not plugged. This could cause uneven fertilizer applications, which can negatively affect emergence.
Also, inspect disk openers to ensure they’re creating the proper width for the furrow to allow optimal placement of whatever type of seed you’re planting. Lastly, resolve any obvious mechanical issues such as replacing worn bearings or chains.
2. Prepare an optimal seedbed. It’s shaping up to be a fairly routine spring as far as seedbed prep. Fall was dry in Minnesota, and even if we do get significant rain or snowmelt in spring, our soils should have the capacity to soak up substantial amounts of moisture before they become saturated. This will help with drainage and should make it easy to work the ground for spring tillage to ready seedbeds.
If you’re a no-till farmer, consider a spring burndown herbicide application to control any weeds that have germinated to help you start off with clean fields.
3. Consider the crop you’re planting. Farmers should always strive to create a good seedbed for their crops, but corn and soybeans are very different as far as where they thrive best.
Corn is much more finicky when it comes to planting in a favorable seedbed, meaning loose, loamy soils that are capable of being planted into at desired depths. It’s also important that the planter closes the furrow to create optimal seed-to-soil contact. Without this, the corn kernel cannot absorb the amount of water necessary to germinate, which will result in delayed emergence. Soils that are hard and cloddy will not allow corn kernels to absorb adequate moisture.
Soybeans, which have a thinner seed coat than corn, can more easily soak up the water they need to sprout and emerge evenly, even without perfect seed-to-soil contact. A huge difference between corn and soybeans is that if a corn plant emerges 10 days later than its neighbor and is shaded out for the season, it basically becomes a weed or will have significantly diminished yields. However, since soybeans canopy and shade each other out, they can compensate by adding more vegetative growth.
4. Ensure soil is fit. If we have good spring weather, you may be tempted to plant early when the soil is close but not quite ready. Resist the temptation. You’ll avoid the negative impacts on seedbed preparation, which can include sidewall compaction and poor crop emergence. Planting into dry soil is very important.
The entire job of a planter is to plant seeds at the desired depth. The job of a seedbed is to provide a place where those seeds can thrive. The first steps you take will affect crop growth and development throughout the season. Talk with your local trusted adviser about how to get both parts right.
Glady is a regional agronomist with WinField United in west-central Minnesota. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.