planter with a film roller

A special planter with a film roller was used in a Precision Planting test plot studying early planting. 

PONTIAC, Ill. — Farmers have seen plenty of research in recent years about how planting soybeans early can increase yields. One of the new efforts in seeing how early is too early includes covering the seeds with a biodegradable wrap, which keeps the heat in the soil.

That process was tested in Pontiac, Ill., at the Precision Planting test plots this year.

Anticipation of what the yields will show is growing, said agronomist Jason Webster, who has been monitoring the project since Day One on March 22. He expects the yields will be higher than in crops planted without the film.

He said he had never planted soybeans so early before.

At summer field days, Webster shows visitors the planter used in the research, which has mounted rolls of biodegradable film which will cover the seeds after they are planted.

The seeds on this particular test plot were also covered with 13 inches of unexpected snow shortly after being planted. But, it didn’t seem to hurt them.

“It was 6 degrees warmer under the wrap,” Webster said.

The Norseman planter is owned by Michael Freeman, who was on hand to answer farmers’ questions. He said the soybean seedlings emerged well.

“We had no stand losses because of the film,” said Webster.

Webster’s first year farming was in 1988, when Livingston County experienced a drought. This year, the first year for the Precision Planting plot in Pontiac, the crops went seven weeks without rain in July and August.

This affected the film research because the biodegradable film, made with cornstarch, would normally disintegrate in eight weeks, Freeman said.

At 16 weeks, Webster held up a plant with some wrap still remaining. Rain and moisture speeds up the process, and Webster said he believes the degradable product will disappear by the end of the season.

The soybeans flowered early on June 21 and were producing multiple pods. He expects the earlier-planted soybeans will have better yields this year because they got more rain during their developmental stages than those planted later.

Growers of other types of crops are interested in the planter, he said. For example, one was tested in Texas last year in cotton. Webster said there is interest from sweet corn growers, who would like to find a way to have a crop ready by July 4 to meet consumer demand.

Webster said he plans more experimentation with the film next year. Some research may include irrigation and fertigation and perhaps planting different season-length soybean varieties to see what works best.

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