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Equipment for today’s crops

Thomas Kilcer Published on 02 January 2015

Due to the increased interest in winter forages, BMR sorghums and minimum or no-till of legumes into winter-forage stubble, many farmers are starting to realize they are planting modern crops with antique management and equipment. For most, it has been two to three generations since anyone seriously grew winter grains, and very few have grown sorghum.

As a result, these dairy and livestock producers have been unable to achieve high yields of very high-quality forage from these crops.

Having both outdated knowledge and equipment is creating a major problem. Most producers wouldn’t drag out Grandpa’s old corn planter for modern corn production, and yet antique drills, some with wooden wheels, are still considered acceptable.

Others think it is OK to chuck it out with a spinner spreader and it will do fine. Try that with a $200 bag of corn. Producers growing these rediscovered crops should take advantage of modern technology and use a modern press-wheel drill.

Since it gives superior results, modern corn planters have a packing wheel behind the planter unit. For drilled fields, using a roller in both minimum and no-till situations gives very haphazard results due to poor seed contact.

This is a result of the natural variations in the field’s surface. A press-wheel drill follows the variability with uniform down pressure. It leaves loose soil between the rows where the weeds are trying to grow.

A drill with press wheels is critical to capturing the superior alfalfa stands planted into triticale stubble after flag-leaf harvest. When harvesting flag-leaf triticale, follow it with a minimum or no-till press-wheel drill, which cuts in 0.25 inch.

The seed will be accurately deposited in the slit, and the press wheel will give optimum seed/soil contact. The resulting alfalfa stand will be better than spring plow, disk, roll and planting. It will also not need stone picking.

The most critical issue with BMR sorghum production is the ability to accurately hit very low seeding rates for optimum yield. Modern corn planters with sorghum units will do an excellent job of uniformly indexing and spacing the seed. The trend is to plant it in very narrow rows for a few reasons. First of all, it maximizes sunlight interception sooner.

More importantly, it protects the growth from the surface being sealed by raindrop impact and keeps weeds from taking advantage of the wide rows. Most grain drills are designed to plant 100 pounds of small grains per acre.

Trying to plant 6 to 8 pounds per acre of sorghum is nearly impossible. Too much seed per acre will cause the crop to fall down, just like corn will. Modern gear-adjusting drills can very accurately plant to these low seeding rates.

Planting depth is another factor that can have a major impact on sorghum. Current research shows the optimum planting depth for BMR sorghum is around 1 inch. Older planters with no depth control put seed at any depth.

Depth control was one of the first settings on antique hand-stab corn planters. Modern drills with depth-control wheels or bands enable the majority of the seeds to be at a set depth. Switching to a grain drill with depth control and press wheels greatly improves the sorghum’s stand uniformity and emergence.

Depth can be the difference between a crop and a complete loss for most winter forage. Triticale should be planted 1.25 inches deep. Some farms have ignored this in the past and gotten away with it during easier winters.

Other winters made it especially obvious which triticale had been planted shallow. Triticale planted shallow or less than 1 inch deep was lost to winterkill, while producers who had planted at an appropriate depth did not have that problem. If planted correctly, triticale is winter hardy.

The modern corn planter has done wonders for stand consistency and uniform corn emergence. Some of that same technology needs to be applied to drills. Eventually seed-indexing drills will become more commonplace, but in the meantime, producers should consider moving from their 1950s drill to something newer.

With the movement to one-pass deep-zone tillage, or the use of aeration tillage with a rolling basket, drills are now planting into more residue fields. This same change has already happened in corn planting. A good minimum-till drill will work and hold up in a range of conditions, while a good no-till drill, although more expensive, will give the farm even more options.  FG

Thomas Kilcer
Certified Crop Adviser
Advanced Ag Systems