When we started growing corn for grazing, we used our airseeder. We thought, “It’s just corn seed for grazing.”
Basically, at first we were just trying to see if corn grazing was something that fit for us. After five years of successful corn production, the question we started asking was, “Is a planter necessary?”
Corn producers said “yes.” There was only one way to find out for sure. You learn by doing.
After doing some trials, we saw some significant production advantages of first using standing corn for feed. Then we saw a significant bump in corn production using a planter over an airseeder.
On our farm, using a planter has given us a four to five wet tonne per acre advantage over using an airseeder.
I see five reasons for that:
1. The seed placement is more consistent. With even plant spacing, cob development is uniform. When corn plants are too close together cobs are delayed and normally do not fill properly. When there is a significant space between plants from an airseeder, it causes zero yield in those spaces, which hurts average yields in any crop.
2. Depth of seed is much better. Seeding depth also affects the corn productivity and cob development. In grain corn, having a difference of more than two leaf stages among plants creates weeds of the later corn plants.
Proper seeding depth will allow the seeds to germinate at the same time and, hopefully, emerge at the same time. Ideally, seed should be placed between one and one-quarter and one and three-quarters of an inch deep.
With planters, each seed row can be set at its own depth, regardless of soil compaction and firmness.
3. There is less seed damage during seeding.
4. There is less disturbance (meaning fewer weeds). Planter openers are a double disc. This allow minimum disturbance of conserving moisture in the seedbed.
5. There are good tramlines to use when spraying.
For organic producers, the wider rows would allow for in-crop cultivation.
Types of planters
There are three types of planters: plate, finger and vacuum planters.
Plate planters are the least expensive of the bunch. Different plate sizes and shapes are available, but you need to match up your seed with the plates. They are the least expensive of the bunch.
Vacuum planters are good, but pricey. Round seed shape is better to seed with them.
For most people just growing corn, a finger planter is probably the easiest to work with. For larger seeded crops like soybeans, the finger seeder units do a good job. For smaller seeds seeded at higher rates, like cereals or soybeans at pure stands, some planters have seed brushes, which is not as precise as a finger or vacuum unit, but significantly less money.
Finger planters pick up one seed at a time — flat or round seed, large or small.
Kinze is known as the Cadillac of finger planters. They used to make the units for John Deere before John Deere went to vacuum units. Parts can be ordered through John Deere dealers. With all planters, seed is picked up and dropped into the drop tubes. No nasty bangs from manifolds in airseeders.
Fertilizer and row spacing
Most planters do not have fertilizer applicators on them. Some do — liquid and granular being most popular.
Corn seedlings are very sensitive to much seed placed fertilizer. Most fertilizer is side banded, usually two inches deep and two inches to the side. It is usually safer to band the fertilizer, then seed. The banding will also help on warming up the soil. If a large amount of nitrogen is needed, a split application may be necessary.
Row spacing is another topic of discussion. For grazing we have found that 30- to 36-inch rows work well. With wider rows, cows trample less. For silage, 30-inch rows are common, where 20 to 30 inches works for grain corn.
When planting corn with a planter, seeding rate can be calibrated two ways: seed spacing, and measuring out one one-thousandth of an acre. There are charts available to figure out the required seeds per acre based on row spacing, and also charts to calculate the length of row of a particular row spacing to get an equivalent one one-thousandth of an acre.
Choosing add-ons for planters can be more confusing than picking out the actual planter. There are trash wipers for conventional tillage and different ones for min or zero-till, coulters to cut trash in front of the openers, fertilizer applicators, markers, closing wheels, seed firmers and even more options.
Different soils, organic matters, tillage practices and rotations require different add-ons.
This is my first year with trash wipers, seed firmers and 13-wave coulters. They do make life easier. One of our planters also has a liquid fertilizer kit. Through it, we plan on using Alpine fertilizer. This way the corn can get three to five gallons of ortho-phosphate and micronutrients, if required.
If you are interested in using the planter for other crops in wide rows, it may be useful to look at insecticide boxes. They do not have much for calibration charts, but they are easy to calibrate. They seed small seeded crops well and are able to do so at low rates.
There are a lot of planters available in Canada and the United States.
Planters are typically simple and fairly low maintenance. Some things to look for when making a purchase are: disk opener wear, accuracy of the metres, bearings, bushings, chains, the condition of the gauge wheels and closing wheels and the condition of the markers.
The toolbar is usually over-built so normally not a concern.
If you are buying from a reputable retailer, they will tell you what needs to be done before seeding. Access to parts is generally good in Western Canada.
If you are just experimenting with corn, and do not have access to a planter, just seed corn. Once you embrace corn production, a planter is a must to maximize production. It just makes seeding that much easier. †