Ask any no-till farmer this question: What is your most important piece of equipment? Many will say it’s their planter.
If you plan to no-till with your existing planter in 2020, now is the time to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Your goal is a perfect stand of corn: Every seed at the same depth and spacing; every seed in the exact same soil moisture and temperature environment. The result should be even germination and emergence. Uneven emergence can lead to some plants acting like weeds.
Not only is corn emerging evenly important from a cost-of-seed standpoint, but it’s also vital to producing a good yield. The goal is that every seed emerges within 36 hours, so every stalk will be ready to pollinate at the same time.
On your planter, you may need to replace springs, bushings or double-disc openers. Or you may need to add row cleaners or change closing wheels.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a no-till planter is the double-disc openers. They must be in excellent condition and will likely need replacing more frequently than in tillage systems. Double-disc openers need to be sharp to cut through residue. Some potential issues may be brand-specific. Talk to your dealer and discuss what needs to be changed or updated.
If you’re unsure about planter setup for high-residue planting, ask a local, successful no-till and cover crop farmer to walk around your planter and go over details. It might be best to work with someone who has the same brand of planter. He or she could help you ward off major issues later.
Even if you’re only moving from no-tilling into soybean residue to no-tilling into cornstalks, or if you’re adding cover crops, you’ll likely need changes. Considerable changes will be needed if you move to planting green. Success planting into standing covers — not recommended for newcomers — dictates that every part of your planter is operating optimally.
In some cases, it might be best to upgrade your planter completely. Ask yourself: What planter works best for the system I want to implement?
Do your research. Talk to successful no-tillers about why they use a specific planter or planter setup. Don’t settle when it comes to what planter you buy. Make sure it will do what you expect it to do.
It should be noted that a major switch like this is better accomplished with planning a year or two out and not just simply making the decision to use a no-till planter. Consider these factors before no-tilling: improving drainage where needed, providing proper soil pH and fertility, spreading residue evenly, and improving soil biology.
When you no-till, you’re making only one pass, and you only have one chance to ensure the best stand of corn possible. That chance is entirely dependent on your planter. Make sure when it goes to the field, it’s ready for the conditions it will face.
Spend the time and the money this winter to get your planter ready, no matter what system you use. Have a local, successful no-till farmer review your planter with you. Remember, your success will depend on your planter doing the best job it can. Make sure your planter is the very best piece of equipment on your farm.
Donovan and Harrison are district conservationists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They write on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.