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Twin-row planters offer benefits in northern climates

Anyone looking to purchase a planter for the first time may feel a little overwhelmed at what’s currently available. There is certainly a very wide range of models and options to choose from.

According to University of Illinois professor and researcher, Dr. Fred Belows, Canadian farmers may want to seriously consider selecting a planter equipped with twin-row openers. Belows was a guest speaker at Case IH’s new-product launch in Denver, Colorado, in August. He spoke to members of the media about his research on corn and soybean production.

Ironically, Below’s failure to realize yield gains with twin-row planters in Illinois revealed they could offer advantages in a cooler region like the western Canadian prairie, because this area sees barely enough corn heat units during the summer to grow longer-season crops like corn. The close proximity of the two rows of corn plants held excessive levels of heat during the overnight period in Below’s test fields, which was detrimental to yields in the U.S. midwest where daily temperatures are generally higher and the number of available heat units throughout the season is greater.

The temperature increase comes from crowding more plants into a smaller space in the field. “I had an infrared photograph and the temperature within the twin row is three degrees hotter at night than the standard (single) row,” explained Below. “It (the twin row) holds temperature. If the night time temperature stands above 73 F (about 22.7 C), kiss a bushel (of yield) goodbye for every night that happens.”

But across the Prairie where even newer corn varieties just barely get enough heat units throughout the season, carrying over higher temperatures through the night may actually help crops reach maturity and yield higher.

“There’s high temperature within that 7.5-inch band,” added Below. “I have seen fantastic twin rows in Minnesota or North Dakota where the high temperature helps. Up north it would work.”

Narrower rows

Generally, Below believes planting corn in narrower rows will be the key to boosting yields all across North America, because it allows for stands with higher per-acre populations. “I think the future is in 20-inch rows,” he said. “When I talked about the need for narrower rows to increase plant population, twin rows would be another way.”

The twin row also helped maximize water availability to plants in Below’s research. “Corn plants act as funnels to funnel water down the stem,” he said. “With twin rows it was fantastic.”

And applying fertilizer to feed plants in twin rows was also easier. “A 7.5-inch twin row on 22-inch centres gives the ability to band right down the centre,” he said. And getting adequate rates of fertilizer to plants right from the start has proven critical in his research. “Apparently plants sense their fertility earlier than we realized and they make irrevocable growth decisions,” he said. “It’s all about rapid growth right from the start, because you can never make up for lost yield (from delayed growth starts).”

But there are also some misconceptions among producers on what benefits a twin row offers. Minimizing lodging problems is one of them. “Contrary to popular belief, twin rows do not hold each other up when they lodge,” said Belows.

For an online look at some of Dr. Below’s research, visit http://cropphysiology.cropsci.illinois.edu/about/staff.html#. †

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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