Crop tour shows how equipment, planting practices can optimize yields

Dan Hansen
Mike Gronski, Pioneer Seeds agronomist, shows the difference of soybeans roots from various planting depths.

EDGAR, Wis. –  Maximizing yields on corn and soybeans in north central Wisconsin presents unique challenges.

Growing seasons can be shortened by late spring snows and early frosts in the fall. Planting is often delayed by excessive April rains along with a variety of other weather-related conditions.

Often the window of opportunity for planting is very narrow, and when that window opens producers need to be prepared to take full advantage of it. That means they need to utilize the proper planting equipment and planting techniques.

To help farmers better understand how these factors come together to optimize yields, AGCO launched a series field-plot tours two years ago that feature on-farm demonstrations employing the latest crop mapping and data collection technology to show the impact that planting practices can have on crop emergence and yield.

This year’s crop tour, sponsored by Swiderski Equipment, Inc., Cropping Central LLC, White Planters and other partners, was held recently in western Marathon County, with nearly 100 growers attending.

Soybean plots

For the first time, the event featured soybean test plots as well as corn. Each 10-acre demonstration field included comparison strips looking at plant emergence, season-long plant progress and yield impact due to a number variables including:

  • Seeding depth, with six depth comparisons from 1 inch to 3.5 inches;
  • Downforce variation – light, ideal and heavy across the width of the planter;
  • Plant spacing and singulations, including the impact of skips and doubles;
  • Seedbed quality, including residue management, soil moisture, soil temperature and seed-to-soil contact;
  • Planting speed, demonstrating how the White Planters 9800VE Series planters equipped with SpeedTube maintain 99.6% singulation accuracy, whether planted at 5 mph or 10 mph (high speed);
  • Compaction, created in a strip to allow comparisons;
  • Tillage practices, including conventional till, strip-till, vertical till and no-till.

The soybean plots included starter-fertilizer trials, using FurrowJet from Precision Planting, and Precision Planting’s SmartFirmer seed-firmer sensor technology that gives farmers views of the furrow by measuring and mapping organic matter, soil moisture, soil temperature and residue in real time during planting.

By monitoring these soil conditions while they plant, growers can change their hybrid, population, depth and fertility while planting to better match their soil conditions.

Field presentations

Tents were set up at various field locations, with several speakers at each station providing information and answering questions from growers.

Speakers included Hayden Henry and John Cooper, Swiderski Equipment precision farming specialists; Darren Goebel, AGCO director of global agronomy; Mike Gronski and Jeremy Brown from Pioneer seeds; and Chad Erickson and Paul Krause from Cropping Central LLC, a large pioneer dealer in north central Wisconsin.

The latest in planting equipment was also on display at the recent crop tour.

Cooper stressed the importance of being able to equalize planter down pressure for each row. “With a 300-gallon fertilizer tank and other equipment, we may have an extra tree tons of dead weight sitting on the center of that planter, and now we don’t have as much weight being applied to the outside,” he said. “If we don’t have some way of adjusting to compensate for that additional weight, we’re going to see variations in depth down force applied across the width of that planter.”

In response to a grower’s question about tractor horsepower needs for planting, Goebel said, “When planting at 4.7 miles per hour, we like to see a minimum of 10 to 12 horsepower per row, but realistically you’ll be at about 15 horsepower per row to pull the planter efficiently. That means a 90-horse tractor for a six-row planter.”

Seeding rates

Because seed is one of the most expensive input costs for soybean growers, it’s important for growers to plant the right amount of seed to minimize input costs and increase profitability. 

Seeding rate, plant population, and row spacing are tied together. If the population is too high, plants compete with each other and often lodge. If the population is too low, a producer is wasting growing space and lowering yield.

Erickson and Krause related several factors that have allowed growers to reduce seeding rates and still achieve optimal plant populations.

Krause noted that 10 years ago it was common to plant 200,000 to 220,000 seeds per acre. “Today, most guys with a corn planter are planting 120,000 to 150,000, and the grain drills are just slightly heavier,” he said.

“Cutting back on our plant populations has helped to reduce white mold, and improvements in seed treatments have helped us get better and more uniform plant emergence.”

Improvements in planters and planter attachments also have helped get more seed in the ground and have provided better seed-to-soil contact. “We no longer have 10 percent of seed laying on top of the ground,” Krause explained.

AGCO Crop Tour results from previous years are summarized online at: