Know More. Grow More.

A technology services podcast provided by Centra Sota Cooperative

Technology Services Manager Andrew Lambert is joined by Crop Advisor, Isaac Anderson and Technology Equipment Advisor, Nate Hood. This episode focuses on discussions about spring so far, how this spring has compared to others, what can be done to a planter to put seed in the best spot possible and evaluating stand.

Andrew:           Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Know More, Grow More podcast. My name is Andrew Lambert, technology services manager here at Centra Sota Co-op in Central Minnesota. I’m joined today with Mr. Isaac Anderson our local agronomist at our Santiago location, and Mr. Nathan Hood our Precision Planting specialist serving all of Centra Sota’s territory.

Today, we wanted to focus a little bit about knowing more about your planter and how to get the correct settings to ensure optimum success during this 2020 planting season. So diving right into it here, Isaac, I was wondering if you could give us a little insight about how the spring planting season shook out for 2020 and maybe how it compared to previous years.

Isaac:                Hey, Andrew. Well, thanks for having me. Like you mentioned, I’m a crop advisor for Centra Sota here at Santiago, servicing most of Central Minnesota. Basically, to sum up our spring, early, much different than last year. We had guys in the field this year planting mid to almost early mid April compared to last year where early planted corn was mid to late May. It was a very different tale this year.

When I think about some phrases that I heard a lot of this year was optimum or ideal. They talked about we had ideal soil conditions, or optimum weather. We weren’t too wet. We had good moisture in the soil, but we weren’t getting heavy rains. And when I think about that, I correlate that to the mechanical side, or the human side of planting season, and how can we achieve optimum, or ideal planting considering Mother Nature has given us a great year? So with that, I lean over towards Nate and think about when we have an excellent spring like this weather and soil-wise, what does that bring to mind mechanically and how we can effect change on the planter to match that ideal, or optimum condition?

Nate:                Yeah. My name is Nate Hood. I’m an ag technology advisor at Centra Sota. I’ve been doing this with Centra Sota on the technology side of things for about 12 years now. Yeah, this year was a bit of challenges, even though it was an easy planting as far as soil conditions, as far as the moisture and all that. Well, this year, we had to really deal with was dry soil. And the thing that affects dry soil when you’re dealing with dry soil is downforce.

Andrew:           So one of the fundamental changes we really need to keep an eye on is downforce this year, you’re saying?

Nate:                Yeah, yep.

Andrew:           What are some of the ways that farmers are currently controlling that on their planters currently? What are some of the systems that you see?

Nate:                Well, really there is about three different systems. One system is side springs. The second system would be airbags. And the third system would be hydraulic downforce. I should probably get into a little bit of how downforce works first, what downforce is. When we’re talking about downforce on your planter, we’re talking about all the things that affect what’s pushing that row unit out of the ground, and also what’s forcing it down into the ground. And what we’re really concerned with in the end is how much weight is on that gauge wheel because that really has effect on your seed sidewall compaction. And that’s what we’re trying to control here.

Some things that would force it down would be seed in the hopper, just the weight of the row unit, stuff like that. And then also whatever actual downforce system you’re using. And then some things that would affect it coming out of the ground, speed would be, say you’re in a high speed application. Just actual drier dirt takes more downforce to force it into the ground. Just stuff like that. Row cleaners can affect it. So there’s just some things to think about there.

And then going back to the three different systems. The first system is the most basic system. It’s been on planters for years, would be side springs. Not a lot you can adjust with side springs. I mean, there’s different ways. There’s some that got levers on them. You can adjust the lever for lighter and heavier downforce. There’s some where you can move the spring back and forth, and it affects downforce. It will help you get more or less.

The second thing that’s been around for a long time is airbags. The longest that’s been around is non-controlled airbags. When I say non-controlled, I mean, things like a monitor controlling it. We’re telling it how much weight we want on a gauge wheel. The basic is we just put air in the bags. Whatever your OEM specs are, you go out to the field, you plant, you take a look, you add more air to it.

The next is controlled. So then what it is, we’ll put a weigh pin on the row unit and then you go along and you put a certain weight, whatever you want on your gauge wheel and it keeps up with it. Well, that worked really great, but it wasn’t quick enough. So say you were dealing with multi-soil conditions, so we had to get something a little quicker, so then we went to hydraulic downforce. Hydraulic downforce is a split second thing where if you get to a different soil type and that load pin reads a different weight on it, it will adjust automatically within seconds.

Andrew:           Yeah. So it sounds like really three basic systems that you’re able to control this on your planters. It sounds that maybe the side springs were the initial setup and airbags and hydraulic downforce. So as the Precision Planting specialist here, what would be your optimum system that you would recommend using?

Nate:                Well, the optimum system is really the hydraulic system. It just gives you more of a range. You can handle wider soil conditions. If you’re really, really wet conditions, you can really control and get that thing a little lighter so you’re not getting that compaction. When we’re in a dry year like this year, you need a ton of compaction, so you can really force it down.

Andrew:           Yeah. So that’s a ton of downforce. So knowing your planter, staying in contact with your planter specialist, Nate Hood here in our territory, and making sure that your downforce is set correctly for the conditions for the year, I think was one of the bigger talking points as planters started rolling this year. So when we think about we have our downforce set correctly, Isaac, how does that really tie back into the agronomic benefits of making sure your planter is set correctly?

Isaac:                Yeah, absolutely. When we think about downforce it’s how are we impacting the furrow. Also, how that correlates to depth. And when I think about our downforce and our depth correlation, there’s three areas we can hit. We can be too light, which will leave us shallow. We can be too heavy, which could leave us deep or with excess of compaction, or it can be ideal like the weather this spring. So when I think a too light of downforce, we start to lose that seed-to-soil contact.

And the biggest issue here is we’re going to start to miss our moisture line. On a normal spring, or maybe even a wetter spring our moisture line is going to run from an inch and a half to maybe three inches. And that’s why almost always our optimum planting is around two to two and a half inches. Well, if we shallow up and miss that moisture line, that seed could sit idle until we catch a rain, or a moisture event, which this year we went 14 days in May without a significant moisture event. So in essence, if we leave that seed too shallow, we might as well be planting it two weeks later. So we’ve missed that optimum condition that Mother Nature gave us.

When I think of too heavy, I think of a lot of people talk about the planters plowing and I think of two sides of that. It could be at the front of the planter with your residue cleaners. If we’re plowing that we’re not actually moving it out of the furrow, we’re just dragging it, but I think of it differently when we talk about downforce and our opening disks. If we’re plowing, I think of a traditional moldboard plow. And when you see heavy dark soils come off of the moldboard, after the plow has been pulled through, you see that shiny, smooth compacted surface of the soil. And I think of that exactly the same as the furrow walls. And if our sidewalls of the furrow are compacted and smeared together, it’s going to create a multitude of problems.

One, our closing system is highly unlikely to be able to lift and collapse that wall. And even if it can, we’re going to have soil clods that are going to break apart and won’t be actually collapsed, and we’re going to create air pockets. I’ve seen this in fields where we walk along the furrow and you’ll occasionally actually see the seed down in the furrow. That seed, again, is sitting idle until a moisture, or a wind event, or a combination will close that furrow for us. So, again, if we’re going too heavy, or too light, we’re basically blowing these optimum conditions that Mother Nature provided us this year. So it’s very important we continue to try to match that optimum, or ideal condition.

Andrew:           Yeah. So I’ve actually seen that before out in the field, too, where you can find areas of the field where soil types are changing and the seed trenches open. And I would say I’d agree with you 100%, Isaac, where that’s going to make a lot of problems potentially down the road where you can lose yield. I’d say the only benefit from it is you can actually easily gauge your seeding depth. So aside one shining star of that is able to find your seeding depth and moving from downforce into this season looking at seeding depth agronomically would you maybe make any recommendations as far as wet years versus dry years and the conditions we saw how would you make sure that you’re planting the correct seeding depth, and what would that be?

Isaac:                Absolutely. Again, like you said, it depends on the soil conditions and the season. I strongly recommend people reach out to a Precision Planting advisor, or a tech advisor like we have that are Premier dealers of Precision and get that stuff situated before we’re even in the field. Make sure that we’re in that two to two and a half inch range to start with. And then let’s effect that depth with our downforce and the different tools on the planter.

We think about a year like this year, we were probably right at that two to two and a half inch mark for ideal moisture, but we think of years past, we’ve had some very wet springs, the past two to three seasons. We’ve been seeing planters shallow up to under two inches, maybe even an inch and a half just to stay out of the cooler, wet soils and not be saturating that seed and exposing it to prolonged wet conditions, or disease conducive conditions, but when I think about depth I like to mention that we can have ideal depth, but if our force is too significant, we’re again going to get that compaction, so it’s a delicate balance of matching depth and force because they are independent of each other. So that’s something I think Nate could touch on how Delta Force is able to constantly monitor that and make sure we keep that balance. Does that sound about right, Nate?

Nate:                Yeah, it does. Your downforce is not really effectively, it’s making sure that you hold the right depth, but it’s not setting your depth. I just want to clarify that a little bit. What I mean by that is you still have to set your depth the standard way with your lever, no matter what planter that would be. If it’s a Case where you got to screw it in or out, or if it’s a John Deere, or a White where you move a lever up or down, you still got to set your depth that way. The downforce is just holding that depth for you really. And that’s the key component there.

And another thing I’d like to touch on this year, I seen a lot of it. We invest all this money to get this yield. We’re investing in our yield. We got this nice fancy product on there. We put it on there and we go out to the field. It’s still a mechanical product. So even though that we set it and it is doing automatic, there is still settings even on automatic that you can set your target margin to, which is your target downforce. And we need to just make sure that we’re checking that in walking behind the planner and making sure that it’s actually doing what it’s doing. That’s just something I wanted to touch on a little bit.

Andrew:           Great. That’s great information. So we learned a lot about downforce, how that affects seed-to-soil contact. It learns how it ensures a smooth seeding depth, and that leads us what happens after the seed is dropped in the trench. We got a nice trench made. We have uniform seeding depth. Here at Centra Sota being a Precision Premier dealer we were able to look at a new system that we were, again, managing seed as best you can after the seed has been placed in the ground. Nate, do you want to talk a little bit about Furrow Force and our experience with that this year?

Nate:                Yeah. So Furrow Force is a new product. So what it is doing is first off, it has two discs in front and it’s collapsing the side seed wall. So we’re breaking that seed wall, or that side seed wall apart. And then there’s two wheels in back and that’s what’s actually compacting in a little bit, and we can control that. We have load pins on that device so we can see how much force is on the wheel so we’re not getting too much, or too less.

Now this product is a product where you got to set it, go out there and look and see what kind of job it’s doing, and then use that setting to base the rest of the season off because a wetter season, or a dryer season is going to greatly affect that closing system as well. Our previous closing wheels that we had before that were, of course, the old standard smooth wheel, whether it was on any OEM product out there. Case has their own closing system. And then, of course, there was a bunch of aftermarkets that came along after that. There was spiked wheels. There was Ag Focus. This product here is a combination of all, getting all the best aspects out of all the other closing wheels that came out on the market and combining it to give you that great seed soil contact and that great density around the seed.

Andrew:           Yeah, I think it’s great. We have come a long way in planting equipment, and here we do try to do our best job we can to make sure that getting the seed in the ground, getting good contact, good depth, and making sure we’re closing the furrow properly will ensure optimum plant germination and growth. So we’re getting towards the end of our podcast here and time limits. I really want to spend a little bit of time saying right now is the time to go out and you can really do a good job evaluating how your planter performed this spring. So, Isaac, if you were to go out to a field right now, what are some of the things agronomically that you want to see after the corn is starting to come out of the ground?

Isaac:                Absolutely. This time of the year is definitely when we look for uniformity, uniformity and spacing, and singulation, and very importantly, uniformity and emergence. And one of the things I tend to hark back to is a lot of people refer to Dr. Fred Below from Indiana his Seven Wonders of the Corn World. These are the seven things that allow us to achieve maximum corn yields. Well, number five on that is one that sticks out. It’s not as agronomic as fertilizer and sunlight and some of these other things it’s plant population. It’s what is our plant population? What’s our plant spacing? One of the things he touched on is that within corn, unlike many other row crops, interplant competition is key when increasing the population.

So what he means by that is if we’re going to have more plants per acre, we need to make sure that there’s an average plant competition, which is basically our spacing, making sure that we have enough root zone for every plant. And when we can achieve that, we can achieve our maximum yield potential for each individual plant. So evaluating that this time of year, seeing what our spacing, our singultation, and our emergence look like, allow us to give our planter a scorecard and see where is there room for improvement? Where do we need to invest on the planter to do a better job in each of these facets? So those are the main things I evaluate in spring, and bring back to the grower for conversations of upgrades for next year to hopefully always be doing a better job on that first pass through the field with the planter.

Andrew:           All right. Yeah. One of the great tools I think we have too here that Nate has been able to use in the past, and, hopefully, well into the future is the POGO stick. So if you have a field that you think you would want looked at definitely reach out to Nate, or Isaac here. Beyond that, Nate, or Isaac, is there anything else you want to touch on before we wrap it up here?

Nate:                No, I believe we’ve covered everything.

Isaac:                Yeah. I just want to thank you for having us Andrew. And if anyone does have more interest in some of these parts of Precision Planting, I’d encourage you to visit the PTI Institute of Precision Planting. They cover a lot of these different planter parts more in depth and more visual than we can in a podcast. And again, reach out to Centra Sota your Premier Precision dealer in the area, and we’d be happy to help, or go through any of these products.

Andrew:           All right. Well, I want to thank everybody for listening today. And like Isaac mentioned, if you want to get in contact with Nate Hood, our Precision Planting specialist in our Centra Sota’s territory here in Central Minnesota, feel free to please visit our website and you can find our contact information on there. Thanks and have a great day.