Minnesota Farmer


2012 Corn Planting

After the dry fall and winter we are finally getting some rain, and it could not come at a better time, most of our corn is now planted.  This morning found half an inch of water in the gauge to add to the 2.5 inches of rain we had earlier in the month.  Things are really looking good for corn planting.

I had commented to our pastor on Sunday that if the weather held the dust would be flying on Tuesday.  By Tuesday morning the corn planters were indeed rolling, and a few ambitious pieces of tillage equipment had made it to the field on Monday.  The ground was so dry after winter that it takes a lot of rain to make it too wet to work the fields.  So, when it got dry enough, the planting started.

This has been my primary view from Tuesday to Friday, looking down the hood of the tractor to keep the planter centered on the marker.  I have not yet embraced the computer assisted steering that draws information from space to keep me gong straight.  My planter is not big enough to make the switch, and will probably never be.  I just do not have enough acres.  Still there is a pride in the straight line of corn rows after planting.

The above picture is from later in the week when we got to some of the corn on corn ground.  For several years now we have been in a corn-corn-soybean rotation on most of our acres, one rental farm has been in a corn-soybean rotation.  The market has been paying better for corn than for soybeans, and I need to respond to the financial cues of the market.

When we grow crops, the left over plant material in the fall needs to be kept in place so it can break down and help feed the next years crop.  Until the advent of modern machines farmers would try to bury as much of the “trash” as possible.  We have learned that the “trash” is needed to help hold the soil by reducing wind and water erosion.  Keeping it on the top also helps to slow weed growth and moisture evaporation.  Fields such as I planted this week were considered sloppy farming only 20 years ago.  Now I look at the rough surface with all of its clumps of crop residue as a sign of long-term health.

This is how our fields look after I plant corn into last years soybean stubble.  This is strip till.  Last fall, fertilizer was injected into the ground in narrow strips under where I planned to plant corn.  This keeps a maximum amount of cover on the soil, while providing the corn plant all that it needs close by.  The soybean residue helps to control wind and water erosion and holds what moisture we have.  This can really help in a dry year.

This is a side view of  how our planter is set up.  When we drive through the field, fingers on the “trash whippers” push plant material, small rocks and clumps of dirt to the side to help make a good seed bed, then the disk openers make a slot in the soil for the seed to fall into.  The larger wheels under the planter help to control the depth of planting.  We want the seed deep enough to reach moisture, but not too deep so it cannot get out.  Finally the smaller wheels in the back pack the dirt tight around the seed to promote good soil to seed contact so the seed will germinate.

The larger yellow bin holds the corn seed we are planting.  This planter uses a vacuum meter system to make sure that seeds are delivered one at a time and in the right number.  The smaller yellow bins at the back could be used for insecticide or herbicide, but are just used to hold parts and tools.  The white tank that you can see part of at the top of the picture is for fertilizer.  We do not use these in strip till, but do use them in more conventional tillage.  They help to get a small bit of fertilizer right where the corn plant needs it to get a good start.

This little loop of metal, most likely a bit of metal from an antique piece of farm equipment, caused a lot of trouble.  Somehow it got caught on the disk openers and stopped them from turning.  I had left about a half a mile of seed sitting on the surface in that row before I discovered it.  It is amazing how one little piece of material can ruin a lot of work.

This is an old monitor system, but it does all we need it to do.  The computer takes information from each row on the planter and speed traveled cues from space to tell me how many seeds per acre I am planting in each row.  If there is trouble, a beep from the monitor will alert me to check on it.  With the price of seed corn, we try to use each seed to its maximum.  Tools like this monitor help to make planting less stressful.

Our planter still uses a mechanical marker.  The disk leaves a slot in the soil for me to follow on the next pass.  Those with larger planters have gone to GPS systems that use technology created by our military to find your position on the globe as guidance systems.  The technology is still evolving, but is getting better each year.

It’s hard to tell that this field has been planted, and that is the way I like it.  If you look across the road you can see the next field I will plant.  It has not been worked yet to level off the surface from last falls tillage.  Both fields still have plenty of “trash” on them.

Now I will be waiting for the next few dry days so I can finish corn planting. With only 80 acres left to plant I should be able to finish that in an afternoon.  So far I feel that our planting is right on time.  Those who planted corn earlier have not gained on me, since cold weather has kept their corn from emerging.  The addition of about 3 inches of rain will give our seeds a good start.  The conditions are looking a lot better than they did only a month ago.  It has all the beginnings of a good growing year.

Michael

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