By John Fulton
Planting remains one the most important, if not most important, field operation for row-crop producers. In most cases, there is one pass to “get it right” with the planting operation. Two key goals of the planter are to achieve optimum stands and uniform emergence to maximize yield potential once the seed is placed in the furrow. Once placed in the soil, corn emergence is influenced by several factors and should be kept in mind not only during planting but also post-planting when scouting.
While planting is the critical field operation, scouting post-planting is important to evaluate planter performance (i.e. Did I “get it right?”) and understanding a field’s yield potential for the current cropping season. Scouting can provide valuable notes on how the planter performed across and between fields with this data used to help improve planting in the future. Mobile applications can enhance scouting since most today provide the ability to geo-reference (i.e. drop a pin) plus take notes and capture images allowing for easy sharing with other farm personnel or consultant.
Before discussing ideas around scouting, it is advisable to make sure technology on farm equipment has been thoroughly checked and updated. To note, it is a good idea to check new equipment for updates as well. Typically even though new, the most recent firmware for technology has not been updated. Here is a 6-point checklist for precision agriculture technology:
- Back-up 2019 planting and harvest data in a secure location storing on a farm computer, external hard drive, cloud site, or similar.
- Check that firmware on the GPS receiver and display are up-to-date.
- GPS/GNSS receiver offsets and planter offsets are correctly entered into the display:
- Ensures accurate ON/OFF actuation of auto-row control and seeding populations change at the proper location for variable-rate seeding.
- Recommend checking ON/OFF by digging seed at headline rows to determine if timing or offsets for auto-row actuation need to be adjusted.
- Check GPS/ GNSS differential correction subscription and make sure up-to-date.
- Look over wiring harnesses and connectors for damage or loose connections.
- Maintain notes for final planter and display setups by crop that can be used for future reference. This allows for quick setup of new displays or if a hard reset occurs on a display.
In terms of post-planting scouting, a first good step is to have a plan in place for how to scout and evaluated individual fields after the crop has emerged. Scout across the entire field visiting locations where unique growing conditions differ. Remote sensed imagery, as-planted maps or other knowledge of the field can help identify what areas to scout. The illustration provided is a soil organic matter map collected from a Precision Planting smart firmer clearly identifying distinctive areas of a field. A downforce map is also a good data layer to use in helping identify locations to visit during field scouting.
Once in the field, scouting should consist of evaluating planter performance and understanding the yield potential for the field. Here is a suggested list for evaluating stands once crops are emerged
- Emergence Quality
- Stand counts – collect stand counts to understand variability in emerged plants across fields and compare back to the target seeding population.
- Stand uniformity — scout for uniformity of emergence looking at growth stage on consecutive plants; Note: missing plants (i.e. skips or non-emergers), doubles, late emerging plants, and existence of compaction or non-closed furrows.
- Seed depth — consider digging up consecutive plants / seeds to evaluate seeding depth consistency especially if uneven emergence is detected. Again, note if compaction or soil conditions (i.e. texture and moisture) may be responsible for variations in planting depth.
- Leaf and Stem Discoloration — evaluate if any nutrient deficiencies exist such as yellowing of corn plants that may indicate nitrogen or even sulfur deficiency.
- Wilting Plants — usually a sign of frost, insect or herbicide damage. Quick investigation can help identify the cause.
Once you have scouted and collected data, you should leave the field understanding if there were any issues that were planter induced and what the yield potential is for the field at this time of the growing season. A simple approach to noting yield potential is by using 3 categories to characterize the field: yield at or above pre-season planning potential, issues found suggesting yield could be below average, or severe issues exist with yield potential already lost. It is still early in the growing season but noting where yield potential is for a field may help with management decisions as the season progresses.
Find additional resources and information on planters, visit the Ohio State University Digital Ag website: https://digitalag.osu.edu/precision-ag/research-focuses/precision-seeding
Dr. John Fulton, Associate Professor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.