TREMONT, Ill. — Some farmers go to huge lengths and travel long distances to be ready for spring planting. Lionel Ector from Elbow, Saskatchewan, in western Canada, was one of those. He traveled more than 1,200 miles to attend planter updates in central Illinois.
“We bought a new planter. Some wait and figure it out in the spring. I want to be prepared,” said Ector.
The 11,000-acre Stulor Farms is in the Canadian province north of Montana. The farm grows, cleans and processes specialty crops including lentils and chickpeas for Canadian and export markets.
He attended both Precision Planting’s winter conference in Tremont and the 360 Yield Center program in Delavan. The events provided hands-on opportunities and time to speak individually with the experts and other farmers.
Ector uses air seeders to plant legumes, and is keen on knowing all the details and possibilities of his new planter. He was also interested in learning what can be done during planting season to give a crop the best chance at being profitable, even with challenging weather
Jason Webster, Precision Plantings’ lead agronomist, acknowledged what a challenge the 2019 planting season was for almost everyone. He gave several examples of what did or did not work last year and what kind of yield difference it made on the tests at the company’s Livingston County farm.
Webster estimates they may have lost as much as $250 per acre when they pushed the conditions at planting time.
The researchers planted some crops into cold, wet soil in April.
“Where we waited to May when the conditions were right, we had some of our best yields,” Webster said, adding corn planted in June did “pretty good.”
When he did a saturated, cold germination test comparing two hybrids, “Hybrid A” had 87% germination and “Hybrid B” had 40%. The hybrid with high germination came through “like a champ,” he said. He calculated he would have lost 56 bu./acre by choosing the wrong hybrid.
It’s worth checking with your seed dealer to get this germination testing done, Webster said.
Planting depth also made a big financial difference this year — as much as $75 an acre. During some of Webster’s planting window, the soil was actually dry and planting the seed at the usual 2-inch depth was too shallow for it to get the moisture it needed to start growing. This year on the Livingston County fields, corn planted at a 3-inch depth at the drier time produced the highest yield, he said.
“Down-force was huge this year,” he said.
Webster also intentionally made errors on the planter to create some skips, singulation issues and residue management problems. He found he lost 40 bu./acre by not ensuring settings were correct.
Nitrogen management was another factor in adding bushels to his corn crop, as was water management. At Precision Planting’s test farm in Pontiac, Illinois, they are experimenting with irrigation and noticed significant improvements in yields when managing water supplies to growing corn and soybeans. This year they saw $150/acre extra revenue with irrigation.
Ector was among 700 farmers at the conference in Tremont, and among hundreds more watching remotely. While Ector will be adjusting a new planter this year, many others will be working with older planters — a sign of diminished profit in recent years.
“As planters age, things happen,” said Troy McKown, the Western U.S. sales lead for Precision Planting.
He went through a long list of items that farmers should check while getting their planters ready for spring. He demonstrated on a used planter, which was sold as “planting ready,” illustrating how much still needs to be done to get the best performance from a planter this spring.