When Doug Smith considered experimenting with corn row widths of 15 inches, there were several things that discouraged him from making the change.
- The Thamesville, Ontario, no-tiller uses the practice of strip farming in 15-foot widths, which requires the use of a band sprayer for herbicide application. His band sprayer wouldn’t work in 15-inch rows.
- Smith likes to cultivate his 30-inch corn, partially as a means of scouting fields during the summer and to earn a herbicide cost savings. His cultivator wouldn’t fit in 15-inch rows.
- Formerly a ridge tiller, Smith still elevates the seedbed for planting. He couldn’t build a ridge in 15-inch rows.
“I found my opportunity with ultra-narrow-row corn was to try twin rows, keep my management in place and combine with the same corn head,” Smith says. “All we did was modify the corn planter, which is something you will have to do anyway if you change to 15-inch rows.”
Corn Planter Needs
The no-tiller took a Kinze factory-made planter with two row units and had it equipped with double-disc openers, press wheels and coulters on the toolbar next to the planting units. Two units were welded together at the location where the gauge wheels would run on the two arms. Gauge wheels were placed on each side.
The twin rows were placed 7 1/2 inches apart and could be set as wide as 10 inches, Smith says. The seed drop was staggered between rows, and the distance between plants within the row was 9 to 10 inches.
“We need a corn planter that can stagger the seed and put them in any row spacing we want instead of being constricted because the planting units won’t slide together,” Smith says. “I hate to buy a brand-new Kinze unit and cut it in half to accommodate twin rows.”
Varied Populations, Hybrids
As he does in 30-inch corn rows in strips, Smith varied the seed populations and hybrids in twin rows. He ran a population of 45,000 seeds per acre in the outside twin rows, 35,000 in the next two rows and 30,000 in the middle two rows.
He also sought taller hybrids in the middle rows and shorter hybrids in the outside rows due to the effects of sunlight on corn plants in strips. He also did not want the outside rows shading out the edges of his soybean strips.
“I also farm land that has a bit of a roll,” Smith says. “There are sand loams and clays. A hybrid performing in one soil type may tail off over that hill, but the other hybrids may do better.
“This is one of my answers to varying populations and things on-the-go with precision farming that I even vary the varieties in the field.”
Fertilizer Placement. Smith slid the coulters for dry starters along the toolbar so the starter was placed directly between the twin rows 3 1/2 inches from the plants. He later sidedressed anhydrous ammonia down the middles.
“I thought the starter fertilizer was important,” Smith says. “I wanted it right in the middle of those two rows.”
While he was able to travel within the twin rows with 18.4-inch tires, Smith recommends switching to 14.9-inch tires since he had difficulty sidedressing corn.
Problems To Address. While he found a 7-bushel yield advantage with twin rows, he could not spray a 10-inch band and had to spray at 20 inches, causing an increase in herbicide costs.
He also had to sidedress earlier due to the tire-width dilemma, causing a need for more nitrogen fertilizer.
Many of the dilemmas Smith faced in twin rows must be considered if farmers are switching to ultra-narrow-row corn, the no-tiller says.
“Does it mean that I can no longer band starter fertilizer or does it mean I have to spray over the top and rely on herbicide 100 percent? You’ve got to look at what it does to all your other management practices,” Smith explains.
“It will change everything on you. If you could bring management of 30-inch corn all the way to a 15-inch system, then I couldn’t argue that the dollars and yields aren’t there.
“Right now, I’d say the yields are there, but I’m not sure the dollars are there because we are not comparing apples to apples. We are not managing 30-inch corn the same as 15-inch corn.”