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The goal, no matter which tillage system you use, is to have as uniform emergence as possible.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

March 9, 2019

4 Min Read
seeded field with dark clouds in background
LESS THAN IDEAL? Sometimes Mother Nature forces your hand. This just-planted cornfield was wetter than desired in spots, but threatening weather was approaching. As it turned out, it poured 15 minutes after this photo was snapped.

What should an ideal seedbed look like? Two crops consultants and an employee at an agricultural research center put on their thinking caps when asked that question. See how your views compare to their answers.

Smooth ride for planter
Pete Illingworth is the principal corn planter operator at the Throckmorton Purdue Agricultural Center in Tippecanoe County, Ind. He cites the importance of a smooth seedbed.

“Now that I have a decent planter monitor that allows me to see nearly everything that is going on with the planter, I’ve learned the importance of having good tillage equipment,” he says. “When planting, the smoother the ride is for the planter, the better the seed spacing, depth and population [uniformity] will be.”

Obviously, you don’t want to plant into mud if it can be avoided, Illingworth says. He aims to plant seed right at the moisture line in the soil. “I never plant any shallower than an inch and a half, based on earlier research here,” he says.

After the seed is in the trench, it’s important to watch the closing wheels, Illingworth says. Each kernel must be covered.

“In conventional tillage, this is rarely a problem because you have loose soil to pull back over the seed,” he says. “No-till can be a little more challenging. If no-till soils are too damp, closing wheels may not close the seed trench. If they only push the trench closed, you run the risk of the trench cracking back open as the soil dries, resulting in exposed seed and poor emergence.”

Consistent depth
Betsy Bower, an agronomist with Ceres Solutions Cooperative in west-central Indiana, shares her thoughts.

“We want to plant all the seed at a consistent depth to get consistent moisture and temperature to start the germination process,” she says, noting that in a tillage system, that depth may be a little shallower or deeper than no-till, depending on the environment previous to planting.

“We’ve had dry springs that led to deeper planting of tilled soils and wet springs where we have not needed to plant as deep,” Bower says. “With no-till, a consistent temperature can be as critical, if not more so, than moisture. Residue on the soil surface can certainly lend to some parts of the field being both wetter and cooler, so planting a little deeper to gain consistency can improve even emergence.”

Bower says the goal should be good seed-to-soil contact with a closed seed slot. If planters aren’t set correctly for soil conditions, it can result in open seed slots in no-till and furrows that aren’t closed evenly in tilled soils.

“For both no-till and till, sidewall compaction leading to tomahawk roots can severely reduce nutrient uptake and overall soil exploration of roots,” she notes.

In no-till, the planter must push surface residue away from the seed slot, she explains. Hairpinning of residue prohibits ideal seed-to-soil contact and can lead to inconsistent germination and emergence.

“As I scout fields, I’m looking for conditions that indicate the field was planted into an ideal seedbed,” Bower says. “Consistent seed depth in corn should start at 1.5 inches below the soil and usually go lower. I’m looking for a closed seed slot with no residue hairpinned into it. I’m looking for consistent seed spacing with few doubles and skips. I’m looking for even emergence across the whole field.”

Sacred pass
“I’ve always said planting is a sacred pass, and you only get one chance to get it right,” says Greg Kneubuhler, G&K Concepts, Harlan, Ind.

He favors vertical tillage systems over horizontal tillage such as field cultivators in the spring. “Often, things look good on top, but underneath at 2.5 to 4 inches is where density layer changes were made with field cultivators,” Kneubuhler says.

“We shear that topsoil off and create a layer that crown roots cannot get through. When conditions get stressed during summer, that can bury you,” he adds.

Echoing his peers, Kneubuhler says what’s important is consistent tillage depth so soil moisture and temperature are uniform. The goal is for seeds in the same field to germinate within 24 hours of each other. With earlier planting, seedbeds that aren’t even can cause significant variation in moisture and temperature, he explains. If corn gets off to an uneven start and is more than two leaf collars apart in development, that will result in significant yield reduction.

“In no-till, simply managing residue is very important,” Kneubuhler says. “Obviously, no-till requires more patience, as we must allow soils to naturally dry on their own. I really like row cleaners to manage residue to allow that row to warm up and dry out.”

Regardless of tillage system, a good seedbed should allow for good seed-to-soil contact that is consistent, Kneubuhler reiterates. “Patience is a virtue in this whole game. Doing things right almost always pays dividends,” he concludes.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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