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What can you learn from a population wheel?

This simple planting protocol lets you compare how plants react in different populations.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

March 17, 2023

2 Min Read
rows of corn and Pioneer hybrid sign against blue sky
SEE AND STUDY: Want to see how a new hybrid performs at higher populations? With this population wheel at Rosedale Ag Service, Montgomery, Ind., you can study each hybrid at different populations.Photos by Tom J. Bechman

When Rosedale Ag Service near Montgomery, Ind., holds a field day for Pioneer seed customers, they know before they even start planning where the corn and soybean lineup discussions will take place.

“We do our talks by the populations wheels,” Michael Wagler says. He and his brothers Lynford and Wes and their dad, Dale, operate Rosedale Ag Service.

“We put out a wheel for corn and one for soybeans, and include all products in our lineup, including new products,” he explains. “It’s a great way to see each product side by side. And for corn, you can step into the wheel and see the same hybrid at populations from less than 20,000 to more than 70,000.

“That gives you a chance to see what a product will look like at your target population before you plant it. Compare ear size, ear height and other traits as population changes. It’s similar for soybeans, going from low to high populations for each variety.”

soybeans planted in a population wheel

If you haven’t seen a population wheel before, it’s likely because they require considerable effort to set up. “We see the value, and we use them to make evaluations for ourselves of various products at different populations,” Wagler says.

Keep it simple

Each wheel resembles the spokes of an old-fashioned wagon wheel. Rows are 60 inches apart on the outside, 30 inches apart in the middle and 15 inches apart on the inside at the hub of the wheel. For corn, if your goal is 35,000 plants per acre in 30-inch rows, set the planter to seed just over 35,000 seeds per acre, Wagler explains.

Related:How corn seed sits in trench draws attention again

As space between adjoining rows narrows, populations go from 17,500 plants per acre, in 60-inch rows, to over 70,000 plants per acre, in 15-inch rows, all because row spacing narrowed inside the wheel. Spacing on the planter stayed the same.

one-row John Deere planter

Originally, the Waglers planted their wheels by hand, with their children doing much of the work.

“They balked at the soybean wheel, so we rigged up a one-row planter,” Wagler says.

It’s a John Deere 7000 one-row unit, powered by a gasoline engine and ground driven. Wagler notes that it basically pulls itself from outside to inside each time.

“This gives us a good way to see how products perform in different situations,” he concludes.

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About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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