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Don't let a wet spring rob your corn crop of yield potential.


Corn planters started this spring slow, with rainfall keeping planting activity well behind the average pace and fueling early anxieties that a late start could unfurl into other issues that could promote yield loss later in the growing season.

And, while the planter is the primary piece of equipment on farmers' minds right now, it's important to carefully manage field activity throughout the growing season to manage variability and yield loss potential when the combines run in the fall. One way to do that is to employ equipment later in the season that can help farmers react and adjust to that variability.

Planting season features a lot of factors that farmers say create concern for yield loss in their corn crop. A survey of 700 corn farmers conducted by Dragotec USA shows more than 48% say delayed planting is their biggest concern among all yield-limiting factors affecting their crops. In addition, excessive moisture and soil compaction are among the top 10 variables, both of which are part of the equation of a wet spring like many farmers have faced thus far in 2017.

Leading up to the month when most of the Corn Belt's crop is planted – May – April was anything but friendly to the majority of corn farmers, with rainfall and cooler-than-normal temperatures the main theme of the first few weeks of planting.

That meant a slow start to planting, and while farmers have the equipment to plant a lot of corn fairly quickly today, the first few steps out of the starting gate could come back to haunt farmers later on in the season in the form of yield loss potential. Playing "catch-up" during planting can lead to compaction and other field conditions that can lead to crop variability that can make manifest later in the season as yield loss, says Fenton, Iowa, farmer and Dragotec USA president Dennis Bollig.

"Soil compaction can absolutely blow up in a wet spring. Even with a good tillage program, your tractor is causing compaction, and a field cultivator is not going to overcome that," says Bollig, a longtime farm machinery innovator who has farmed nearly 40 years in northwestern Iowa. "Compaction can cause a lot of variability within a field and ultimately lead to a challenging harvest, and wet springs like this year can cause a lot of issues with compaction."

Planting corn when the optimal window is closing can be a double-edged sword; on one hand, you are in a rush to get the crop in the ground, but bumping up planting speeds can sometimes lead to more compaction, regardless of the moisture and overall condition of the soil during planting. Planting late can also be a yield culprit, making it important to balance planting speed with the time you have available to get your crop in the ground. In other words, don't rush if you don't have to.

"The faster you drive with your planter, the more downpressure you need to keep the row unit on the ground. Today's high-tech planters can control downpressure better, so they're trying not to exert any more than what is needed to get the seed in the ground at the proper depth," he says. "Differences in downpressure can cause variability, and that can create microenvironments in your fields. And, though planters can adjust to a lot of that variability, it still affects yield in the long-run."

With the innovation that's common in today's modern planters, it's important to match that innovation with other equipment through the growing season, especially at harvest. In Dragotec USA research, farmers say the corn head is second only to the planter in its influence on corn yield and potential loss.

Today's planters create variability by design, with variable-rate seed populations and multi-hybrid planting adjusting planting operations to best fit the environment. The end result is a crop that gets its best start possible, but it also makes it important to employ equipment that can react to that variability later on, especially during harvest, to maximize yield potential.

"Planters are so precise now, and just when you think planters can't get more high-tech, they do," Bollig says. "When you're variable-rating populations, varieties and fertilizer, you're creating variables at the same time. That's why it's important to have a corn head that can keep up with that planter technology and the variability it creates."

If you’d like to learn more about how a Drago GT or Series II corn head can help manage variability and minimize yield loss caused by planting and early-season fieldwork, contact your local Drago dealer. For more information on Drago corn heads, go online to http://dragotec.com.