In the world of agriculture, it seems like there’s a constant barrage of technology and information at the dawn of each season. Sifting through the latest knowledge and applying the latest silver bullet technologies can’t replace the basic principles behind growing food. The good news is there are things each grower can do to increase yield without increasing cost before any seed even hits the soil.
Variety selection, planting date, seedbed preparation, planting depth and seed spacing are five crucial factors that all rely on each other and work together to increase yield according to Alan Muhs, Soybean Product and Production Manager for NorthStar Genetics. “If you start kind of thinking about these factors, they do interact with each other. For example, proper seed bed preparation really affects planting depth. If your seed bed is rough and uneven, it can go from shallow to too deep, and the same thing with planting depth, if you go too deep your seed spacing will be off because it’s not likely that all your seeds will germinate,” he says.
In terms of variety selection, Muhs emphasizes the importance of sticking to the plan regardless of the hectic pace of seeding, and ensuring the correct variety ends up on the intended field.
“I think at times guys tend to pick up the next seed that’s in their shed, throw it on the planter and go to the field that’s ready. That doesn’t always mean that was the right seed variety for that field,” he explains. “Micromanaging that a little more can put a couple bushels an acre in your pocket because it was the right fit.”
Thinking about planting date, soil temperature and weather trends also play a role. Muhs urges growers in the Dakotas and Minnesota to familiarize themselves with historical weather factors before starting the seeding process. “The biggest factor, especially being in the north, is not always the soil temperature, but the long-range forecast for the next 3 to 5 days. If you’re getting a cool down, the soil temperature is going to creep back down. It’s not always about the soil temperature right now, but looking ahead,” Muhs clarifies.
When focusing on seedbed preparation, Muhs advises the soil bed should be smooth, weed free and uniform. Ensuring this is done will aid in moisture control, as well as removing obstacles for emerging seed. “You want to make the top two inches of ground nice and uniform, so when you stick a seed in there, the ground contacts all around the seed. You don’t want big chunks or anything like that, like a big rock where the plant has to go around it,” says Muhs.
Planting depth is another crucial factor when thinking about maximizing yield. Muhs wants growers to take the idea seriously, that if you’re paying for seed on a seed count, you’re really paying for each individual seed. “I would say the biggest thing is getting to your moisture as well as your nutrients,” Muhs says. He goes on to explain that one of the biggest problems with seed depth is the plant being set too deep and running out of energy before hitting the topsoil, which isn’t always intentional. “An issue we sometimes see is setting the seed depth at the beginning of planting and not stopping to check to see if it’s changed, and then adjusting appropriately.”
Muhs points out that when thinking about seed spacing, location plays a huge role, and will also tie into variety selection. Spacing will always depend on what type of plant is going in, what types of plants are suited for individual climates and soils, or whether the plant is a bush or a row variety. “Much like seed depth, setting the population and not changing it, even though the hybrid/variety and the yield capabilities are different is a misstep we sometimes see.”
Summing up maximizing yield potential, Muhs wants producers to look at the basics of the process and stick to the plan of execution. He leaves us with a final thought:
“Planting is the most important time of the year for farmers, as far as setting a good foundation for the rest of the growing season. Too often we see farmers rushing through the process. The common denominator in all this is speed kills! Having patience and taking time is key.”