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

No-Till Farmer's Conservation Ag Operator Fellow for 2022, Jim Leverich is a no-till farmer near Sparta, Wis. His 1,000 acre-farm has been in his family since 1864 and no-tilled since 1984. An innovator and educator, Leverich has 35-plus years of no-till and on-farm research experience, and possesses a deep, practical understanding of what makes no-till work. For his contributions while at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, Leverich was named the No-Till Innovator of the Year (Research & Education category) in 2006. A talented presenter and writer, Leverich was a regular guest columnist for No-Till Farmer in 2011 when it earned the Gold Medal as the nation’s top newsletter from the American Society of Business Press Editors.

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