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Plant Stand: Foundation for Success

Thursday, January 1, 2009
filed under: Planting Systems

By Clint ‘Boomer’ Patterson

Clint (Boomer) Patterson produces sunflower, spring wheat, durum and barley near Bottineau, N.D. He has been in a no-till system with his grains for the past six years and grew no-till sunflower for the first time in 2008. Between his own acreage and that which he custom planted, Patterson seeded about 3,500 acres of sunflower last spring.

Like every sunflower producer, I know that plant spacing and stand establishment play a huge role in determining what kind of season I’m going to have. If my emergence is strong and the plant stand is uniform, I have the foundation for a successful year. If emergence is mediocre to poor and/or the stand is inconsistent, my upside potential is already sharply limited.

I produce no-till sunflower in north central North Dakota, not far from the Canadian border. Our growing season is already pretty short compared to a lot of areas; then, if you toss in a no-till scenario where the soil doesn’t warm up quite as quickly in the spring, the season becomes even shorter.

So when I do plant ’flowers, I really need good germination and emergence, as well as strong early season growth. We also have to be on the alert for cutworms and treat promptly if their populations warrant it. During the past three years, given the vagaries of our springtime weather, we’ve ended up seeding our sunflower anywhere from the middle of May to the first week of June.

To seed sunflower, I use a 24-row , 30” spacing John Deere 1770NT CCS planter with Pro-SeriesXP™ vacuum seed meters. It’s fitted with side banders for 2x2 fertilizer application, Dawn trash whippers out front, and Dawn row closing wheels in the rear. It also is equipped with the eSet™ vacuum kit from Precision Planting, Inc. — which is definitely helpful with more-difficult-to-singulate seeds like sunflower.

Even so, we can still run into problems with bits of trash or pieces of sunflower lodging in holes on the seed disk. That was a serious issue for me this past year — in large part due to a seed company not doing an adequate job of cleaning/conditioning some of their seed before it went into the bag.

Fortunately, I had purchased and installed a new state-of-the-art planter monitor. Sold by Precision Planting, it’s called a “20/20 SeedSense™ Monitor.” This monitor gives me real-time readings on plant population, singulation, skip percentage and multiple (doubles or triples) percentage. It also measures down-force pressure, ground contact and “good ride.” The “good-ride” feature lets me know whether the vertical movement of my row units is within bounds. If it’s excessive, that means the units are bouncing too much — which in turns means the sunflower seeds are not going to fall smoothly down the seed tube, thus resulting in inconsistent in-row spacing.

Having all these features in a planter monitor costs money, of course, but it has been a great investment for me. My old monitor basically just gave me a blinking light if there was a problem. Now I have a much better idea of what’s going on out there — and I can respond to any problem and fix it immediately.

I was really pleased with the uniformity of my sunflower emergence and final plant stands in 2008. Some of my fields could only be described as “awesome.” Using this system is a lot like having a “test bench” on every planter unit. It gives me a real detailed, up-to-the-second account of where the seeds are ending up. I’ve never had seed placement and plant stands as good as I had this past season.
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