The most important pass a farmer will make through a field is at planting time, so it makes sense to focus their investment there, says Larry Kuster, senior marketing specialist for seeding and tillage at AGCO.

Recently released results from three years of AGCO Crop Tour field demonstrations comparing variable placement of corn seed at planting confirm that theory. The research revealed that yields improve when seed spacing, seeding depth and planter unit downforce are optimized according to soil and growing conditions.

Between 2016 and 2018, about 20 demonstration plots were planted using White Planters VE Series planters equipped with vSet seed metering, vDrive electronic drive and DeltaForce automated downforce, plus 20/20 monitoring and data management from Precision Planting, an Illinois company recently acquired by AGCO.

Sites were located mainly in the Midwest, from Ohio to North Dakota, with one at the Kevin Iczkowski farm near Edgar, but six were in other countries, including Ukraine, Russia, South Africa and Germany, Kuster said.

Kuster said the study began with AGCO’s desire to market certain White planter models, as well as Precision Planting products.

“The concept came from we didn’t know anything about their product, so we put them on the planter and went to the field with them,” he said.

AGCO adopted Precision Planting’s crop tour concept and protocols, with a common planting errors created for singulation; downforce; seed disk modification to encourage skips, mis-plants and double plantings; and six planting depths ranging from an inch to 3½ inches.

A lot can go wrong at planting, according to Kuster, and “it’s fun to watch farmers’ faces” when they see how small changes can make a huge difference come harvest time.

“They’re astonished at the difference and the impact on their bottom line of those very common planting errors,” he said. “It just goes to show how farmers sometimes don’t get the seeds planted like they think they are due to not enough downforce, or they plant like Grandpa told them to plant. ... Maybe they’re not planting deep enough or there’s not enough moisture or enough soil temperature for uniform germination and emergence.”

The biggest surprise from the research, according to Kuster, was the impact of gauge wheel downforce on uniform emergence and yield.

“The most alarming thing is how often the downforce setting is not correct,” he said. “When farmers set their downforce with springs or with air bags, they might be correct for the spot of earth they’re standing on at that time, but 6 feet down the field, it may be different soil so it may be not enough weight, or too much.”

Inaccuracies can result in soil compaction, interfere with the plant’s root development or even prevent the crop from emerging through the soil altogether.

Adjusting downforce on the go is critical. DeltaForce automated downforce makes mechanical adjustments five times per second, virtually ensuring uniform germination and emergence, Kuster said. In the study, corn planted using automatic downforce control yielded 16 bushels more per acre than corn planted with downforce that was too light and 2 bushels more than corn planted with downforce that was too heavy. On average, planters equipped with DeltaForce added 9 bushels to per-acre yield.

Other findings were that seed singulation accuracy adds 5 bushels per acre, and planting into adequate moisture at depths from 1.5 to 3 inches optimized yields. Seeds planted 1.5 inches deep yielded an average 14 more bushels per acre than seed planted an inch deep. Conversely, when corn was planted 3 inches deep, average yield was 10 bushels per acre higher compared to corn planted 3.5 inches deep. Stand reduction and uneven emergence were seen at 3.5 inches.

“When soil moisture is an issue, the data supports making adjustments and planting at least 1.5 inches deep and up to 3 inches deep to be sure seed is in consistent moisture,” said Darren Goebel, agronomist and director of global agronomy and farm solutions for AGCO.

Goebel said uniform corn emergence is the most important factor in optimizing corn yields: “At each location, we mapped the intentional planting variations, then evaluated seedling emergency, monitored crop progress, dug roots and collected yield data to illustrate to growers how ideal planting practices deliver a real return on investment for growers.”

Planter set-up key

Swiderski Equipment, which was among the top White dealers in the U.S. last year, co-hosted three demonstration events, including one for FFA members, last year at the 800-acre Iczkowski farm in central Wisconsin, where a 30-acre research plot was set up.

Iczkowski said he was most surprised by how well the corn variety he planted compensated for the study’s growing condition variations.

“Some results should’ve been amplified,” he said. “Some was planted a half-inch deep and looked terrible all year; everyone agreed it wouldn’t do good, but it was 150 bushels (per acre). I thought there would be more of a spread.”

The crop was just a couple inches of rain shy from having an “extremely good year,” with a consistent yield of 200 bushels, he said, adding, “We couldn’t buy a drop of rain” in August.

Iczkowski said one of his takeaways from the three years of research is how key planter set-up is. He was surprised by how well his John Deere planter with older precision equipment did vs. the new, decked-out White planter.

Iczkowski, who also works in sales for Swiderski Equipment in addition to farming, said he’s glad he could help educate farmers about the latest planting technologies and changes they can make to improve yields. He hopes to host a soybean trial this growing season.

“I want to keep educating growers,” he said. “With the low (crop) prices, you’ve got to do things on your farm to make every penny count.”

Kuster said many farmers take a harder look at investing in technology upgrades during a down farm economy such as this one, since they can bring better financial returns.

“(A planter) is the kind of investment that farmers will make particularly in tougher times,” he said. “They’re trying to maximize their bottom line. When times are good and corn is $7 a bushel, we kind of get a little more lackadaisical. When things tighten up ... we want that extra 5 to -8 bushels an acre.”

While AGCO oversaw the field demonstrations the past three years, Kuster said, local White planter dealers now are taking the lead and AGCO is moving into more of a supporting role.