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Changing row width can lift corn yields

Tom J Bechman planter on display
UNIQUE PLANTER: This is the planter that several companies helped Beck’s build to test concepts such as changing row widths on the go.
A planter able to alter row width on the go is found as beneficial as shifting hybrids and seeding rates.

Heads turned a few years ago when companies proposed shifting hybrids on the go. Beck’s was one of the first companies to demonstrate an advantage. Variable-rate seeding was already possible before you could plant two hybrids in the same planter pass.

Now, Jason Gahimer, manager of Beck’s Practical Farm Research, says the next parameter may be shifting row width on the go. You read right — row width!   

“We were able to build a planter in 2017 and use it in 2018, which allows us to plant in 10-inch, 20-inch and 30-inch rows, plus change seeding rates and shift between two hybrids, all on the go,” Gahimer says.

The project was possible because several companies cooperated with Beck’s to put the planter together, Gahimer says. They include Harvest International, Case IH, Precision Planting, Yetter, Capello and Schlipf Precision Ag, Milford, Ind.

Eye-opening results

In 2018, Beck′s planted passes in large-scale fields in combinations of 10-, 20- and 30-inch rows with two hybrids at 34,000, 38,000, 44,000 and 48,000 seeds per acre. They also included 10-inch rows at 63,000 because that represents the equidistant spacing, diamond-shaped pattern. “That’s just too thick but we wanted to show what that kind of spacing looked like,” Gahimer says.

One hybrid worked best at 34,000 in 10-inch rows on better soils. In lighter soils, it worked best at 30-inch rows at 38,000. They were ready to run trials again in 2019, but wet soils and poor planting conditions scrubbed the trial. However, they repeated it on different fields with other hybrids in 2020. Somewhat higher populations worked better in 2020, but Gahimer says 38,000 to 40,000, especially in 10-inch rows, appears to be enough seed in most cases.

By using analytical tools and breaking out soil types, they could estimate what the entire field would have averaged for each hybrid in each year planted across the entire field in one row width at one population. Then they determined the average if the entire field had been planted by varying row width, seeding rate and hybrid to match soil types and location.

Combining both years together, the average for traditional planting would have been 232.9 bushels per acre, vs. 260.3 bushels per acre if they varied planting by prescription for row width, seeding rate and hybrid choice.

“We’re seeing the most benefit from changing row width and seeding rate, but matching hybrids is important, too,” Gahimer says. “When you can do all three, it’s a powerful, exciting combination.”

Is it doable?

To make sure they could do it, they wrote the world’s first multi-row width, variable-seeding rate, multi-hybrid prescription in 2018. “We thought there might be glitches, but the planter works really well reading off the prescription,” Gahimer says.

What about harvesting? “That’s where the Capello all-direction head comes in,” he says. “Running it at a slight angle, it does an excellent job harvesting in these fields.”

What about sidedressing and fungicides? “We would leave tram lines so you could still manage the crop,” Gahimer explains.

He realizes the concept needs more testing. The planter will be near Milford at Schlipf Precision Services for trials in 2021, since soils there are even more variable.

“There is a lot of potential here, and the technology to make it possible is here, too,” Gahimer says.

TAGS: Crops
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