Update from the Field: Don’t Let Residue Pin You Down
Posted by David Dyson, Agronomist on May 21, 2018
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As little corn seedlings start emerging from the soil, some corn plants seem to be coming out of the ground faster than others. Last week, I was called out to investigate a no-till corn field with uneven emergence. The field in question had plants two inches tall next to seedlings that were one inch tall. The producer used three gallons per acre of an in-furrow liquid starter fertilizer and was worried it had caused the uneven emergence. As I parked my truck and started walking across the field, I noticed the surface was covered with a large amount of residue from the previous crop.
I always carry my shovel with me because clues to cropping issues are often found underground. When I dug up the smaller corn plants I discovered “hair-pinning” of last year’s residue (Figure 1), which resulted in the delayed emergence. My suggestion to the producer was to attach row cleaners ahead of the seed openers on the corn planter. Come to find out, he had row cleaners on his planter, but this was the first field planted and the row cleaners were not engaged.
Figure 1: This picture showing "hair-pinning" by the planter’s seed openers was taken on 5/11/18 near LaGrange, IN.
Uniform no-till stands of corn can be difficult to achieve if conditions at planting are not ideal. Achieving seed-to-soil contact during the planting pass is often one of the challenges involved with no-till planting into fields with high levels of surface residue. It is important to minimize the residue coming into contact with the seed or “hair-pinning” residue in the seed trench. If residue becomes pinned in the seed trench, moisture can be wicked away, leaving dry pockets and delaying germination. Seed-to-soil contact helps ensure optimum moisture absorption by the seed that is required for initiating the germination process.
Uneven emergence will result in plants with delayed development, and these plants are unable to successfully compete with neighboring ones that emerged earlier. Yield losses to uneven emergence may be as great as 10 percent, according to research from the University of Wisconsin, so it is worth making the effort to prevent the occurrence of uneven emergence.
In conclusion, residue in the seed trench seems like a trivial problem, until it does not allow the seed to be seated in the bottom of the trench or starts wicking out moisture around the seed. Even in a no-till system, strive for a residue-free, clean seed bed, which may be achieved with the correct equipment.
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Dave Dyson is a regional agronomist for The Andersons’ Farm Centers which are located throughout Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He is an Indiana native and grew up on a dairy farm in Miami County. A graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Crop & Soil Science, Dave has a deep knowledge of various agronomic topics and is committed to helping growers improve their crops. If you have any questions, Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.