No-Till Notes: Fine Tune Populations with Variable Rate Seeding

No-tillers who use precision technology and nail down their soil types can find the right balance with corn populations and optimize yields and profits.

For years, farmers have been encouraged to continue increasing populations to enhance corn yields.

This may have been profitable when corn prices were higher and seed costs were lower, but more recent research suggests that planting over 30,000 plants per acre on most soils doesn’t often translate to economical increases in yield relative to seed cost.

In addition, today’s planters are producing more uniform stands, as seed meter accuracy and seed opening and closing systems have both improved.

So it’s probably worth looking at your populations to see if you can find a balance between yield optimization and efficiency. Here are some things to consider.

Population Dynamics

In some cases, we may be overpopulating our fields — especially in areas where water-holding capacity may be limited.

Field areas with shallow top soil, sandy soil textures and soils with low organic matter aren’t suited for high populations and can definitely produce higher yields if not overpopulated.

On lighter soils, going for a “production home run” every year may actually lower 10-year averages, so it might serve you best to be conservative in that situation.

Yields on soils with low water-holding capacity can really be hurt if we overpopulate, rather than using a population that efficiently uses the available water.

In dryer years, if we overpopulate soils with lower water-holding capacity, plants may become so stressed at pollination that they don’t produce much of an ear — or no ear at all. These extremely low yields lower our yield averages more than…

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Leverich_jim

Jim Leverich

Jim Leverich no-tills near Sparta, Wis., and serves as an onfarm research coordinator for the University of Wisconsin.

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