There are several items related to what we do with the no-till planter that have a significant impact on the yield expectations.
The premise is that we expect very high-yielding crops using the no-till system of crop production. After all, water is the most critical input for high yields, and no-till properly done always yields more plant-available water. We have great genetic yield potential in today’s seeds, and this potential continues to improve with progressive research. Our soils are in pretty good shape fertility-wise and we are working on improving soil health.
With a good growth medium (soil), top genetics (seed) and an ample supply of crop nutrients (fertilizer, manure and/or biosolids), an insufficient supply of water is the most limiting input for the crop. Regardless of the job we do with the soil, choosing genetics and providing nutrients, water availability will have more of an impact on yield than any other input.
Previously, I’ve looked at the positive results from using cover crops and residue management to maintain a mulch cover on the soil surface to increase crop-available soil water — and improve soil health. We then considered the impact of using starter fertilizer on our corn crop. We can force some excellent early season growth with strategically placed starter fertilizers.
With this as our background, let’s turn our attention to the no-till planter. We have one opportunity each season to plant the crop right. If we fail to get it right, the high yields we are striving for will elude us. Using the corn planter as an example and starting at the front hitch and ending with the seed furrow closing system, we can break down the components to make sure they are doing the job the way it needs to be done.
Tractors have drawbars that vary in height. Never forget this. The planter hitch is designed so it can be adjusted. This allows the planter hitch to be fitted to a wide range of drawbar heights. By properly adjusting the hitch clevis on the planter, we can have the desired planter hitch height. The correct planter hitch height assures a level planter front to back. A level planter can operate as designed. A tilting planter will always be a problematic planter. Step one: Level the planter by setting the hitch height as stipulated in the operator’s manual.
Next up is the fertilizer delivery system. Fertilizer can be placed pretty far front or back on the planter. The optimum setup will place starter fertilizer in the seed furrow and in a band beside or over the row. The seed-furrow fertilizer is usually a liquid formulation and is applied through a furrow-placed tube or seed firmer.
The most common problem is the use of oversized tubing. Quarter-inch tubing is the standard for a seed-furrow delivery system. Larger-diameter tubing will usually cause breaks in the delivery flow. The ideal is an unbroken string of liquid fertilizer in the seed-furrow area.
The second problem is not using a flow meter or other flow check device to monitor individual row flow rates and to prevent line draining when the planter is raised for turnaround. Limit nitrogen plus potassium rates according to local area recommendations (usually 10 pounds per acre of nitrogen plus potassium or less). This is the V1 to V2 growth stage feed.
The banded starter fertilizer beside the row or over the row is very important. This can be dry granular or liquid fertilizer. Use a phosphorus-based fertilizer and put it in the ground if the crop needs phosphorus. If applying a nitrogen and/or potassium fertilizer, a surface dribble application works fine unless the soil is low in potassium, in which case put the potassium in the ground.
On high-testing soils, a nitrogen-only starter works fine by supplying part of the crop’s nitrogen requirements and giving the “starter effect.” This is the V3 to V4 growth stage and beyond feed.
We will move further back on the planter next time. We’d love it if you would post comments here on the blog, or you can send them to Darrell Bruggink at firstname.lastname@example.org and he can post them for you.