A successful harvest starts with proper planting. Factors such as depth, downforce and singulation can all have a significant impact on overall yields. Thankfully, modern farming implements offer a number of high-tech solutions to help farmers maximize yields through precision planting.
To help demonstrate the importance of proper depth, downforce and singulation for a bumper corn crop, AGCO conducted multiple field studies over five years. It’s important to remember that every field is unique, and farmers are encouraged to work with their local agronomists and equipment dealers to find the ideal solution for their operation. However, we’ve compiled data from dozens of fields mostly throughout the Midwest to provide some insight as we prepare for 2022 planting.
What Is the Ideal Planting Depth for Corn?
Planting depth is extremely important for uniform emergence, growth and development. Our study to determine the optimum planting depth for corn looked at six different planting depths, beginning at 1 inch and increasing to 3.5 inches at half-inch increments. The study was conducted from 2016 to 2020 on 22 fields.
When averaged across all locations, planting at 2 inches resulted in the highest overall yield. However, optimum planting depths per location often ranged between 1.5 and 3 inches, depending on field conditions. Typically, agronomists recommend starting at 2 inches then adjusting depth based on moisture conditions and future forecasts in your area.
Planting less than 1.5 inches can cause non-uniform emergence due to moisture variability. Planting excessively shallow can also prevent proper nodal root development. Additionally, we often recorded increased instances of stand reduction compared to other depths. Test strips planted at 1 inch saw an average 13 bushel per acre yield loss. Assuming a market price of $5.50 a bushel, calculated losses could be in the neighborhood of $71.50 per acre.
On the other end, planting too deep (>3.5 inches) can also lead to stand reductions under certain conditions, mostly in heavier textured soils and when conditions are cold and wet. In our trials, plots planted at 3.5 inches resulted in an average 8 bushel per acre yield loss, a $44.00 per acre loss, with farmers seeing an increase in emergence delays and stand reductions.
Consistently achieving an ideal planting depth is challenging, especially as seedbed conditions change from field to field. Massey Ferguson VE Series planters come standard with the most accurate depth control systems in the industry. Our system allows for seeding depth adjustments by .25-inch increments on every row unit, which combined with DeltaForce ensures that every row is placing seed at the intended depth consistently, regardless of variation across the field.
Before planting, it’s recommended farmers calibrate depth control on all row units to ensure the depth you set is the depth you achieve. Additionally, as planting season progresses, verify depth by digging behind the planter a couple of times throughout the day.
How Much Downforce Does Corn Need?
Automatic downforce control is another tool in the farmer’s planting arsenal. If downforce is too light, the planter row units may not go deep enough or bounce, resulting in shallow and/or inconsistent depth control. On the other hand, too much pressure on the gauge wheels can lead to soil compaction around the seed zone, especially in moist soil conditions.
Our field study measured the yield impact of automatic downforce control — such as the DeltaForce™ control system standard on all Massey Ferguson VE Series planters — compared to a fixed pressure similar to a spring or air bag. Data was collected from 25 fields across multiple states encompassing different soil types, tillage systems and planting conditions. At each field, we set up three side-by-side treatments including an automatic downforce control versus two fixed down pressure settings, heavy and light.
Averaging across the locations, DeltaForce increased grain yield over fixed light downforce by 13 bushels per acre and 3 bushels per acre over fixed heavy downforce. Assuming a market value of $5.50 a bushel, planting with too little fixed downforce would cost an average of $71.50 per acre, while planting with too much fixed downforce could result in losses of $16.50 per acre.
Different tillage systems will likely require different amounts of row unit downforce. Fields with reduced tillage may require more downforce pressure than fields with more aggressive tillage, for example. Even within a field there are a lot of changing conditions, such as compaction from previous wheel tracks, soil types or moisture levels that will require different levels of row unit downforce to achieve target depth consistently. With the DeltaForce system, farmers can use the data from the 20/20 monitor and make seamless downforce adjustments in real time. Automatic systems like DeltaForce represent farmers’ best chance for uniform planting in any condition.
How Does Singulation Impact Corn Yield?
In addition to planting depth, farmers must be concerned with seed singulation. Poor singulation at planting can have a significant effect on yield. For example, double dropped seeds can result in weaker plants and smaller ear sizes. Plants adjacent to a skip might produce larger ears and more grain, but this is not enough to compensate for the entire yield of the missing plant. Simply put, plants spaced evenly apart just have a better chance to thrive and handle all the different stress factors that might occur throughout the season.
To measure singulation effects, we conducted a study across 22 fields using modified seed plates, or “goof” plates, to intentionally create skips and doubles on specific rows. Thanks to Massey Ferguson’s vSet™ meters and vDrive™, we achieved a 99.6% accuracy in standard seed singulation plots. Plots using the “goof” plates saw an average 93.4% singulation accuracy. Reducing accuracy by 6.2% resulted in a 5 bushel per acre yield loss for a $27.50 per acre dollar loss, assuming a market price of $5.50 per bushel.
Farmers using the Gen3 20/20 Monitor can keep a close eye on seed singulation and spacing from the cab and immediately be alerted to any issues. Again, as you’re out digging and checking on depth, dig up the neighboring seeds as well and make sure that they are spaced right for the population.
Maximizing Corn Yield With MF VE Series Planters
Throughout the growing season, farmers will make many management and equipment choices that have a direct result on yields, and it all starts with planting. Work with your local Massey Ferguson dealer to make sure you’re sowing the seeds for a successful corn harvest in 2022.
Jason Lee is an agronomy and farm solutions manager for AGCO Corporation. He has an extensive background in corn and soybean production, soil fertility management, precision agriculture and crop pest protection. As an agronomist and researcher, Lee’s mission is to provide farmers with the technologies and information to make profitable and sustainable management decisions. Today, Lee’s research focuses on minimizing soil compaction, improving herbicide spray quality, establishing cover crops and evaluating row crop planter performance. He holds a PhD in agronomy from Purdue University, where he also participated in extension activities and on-farm research. Lee was raised in rural South Dakota where he was actively involved with the farming community through raising cattle and working in ag retail. He currently resides in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and enjoys pheasant hunting, fishing and home remodeling projects in his spare time.