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Twin Rows Still Shining

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
filed under: Planting Systems

Brian Jelinek (right) and longtime employee and planter operator Steve Burney (left) are pictured in front of the twin-row panter they've used since 2013 to put in the farm's row crops near Alliance, Neb.

       Back in 2012, Brian Jelinek made the decision to produce his next year’s row crops — corn, dry beans and sunflower — in a twin-row pattern.  He had witnessed his brother Jim’s success in doing so, and believed the move made good sense for him as well.
       But the Box Butte County, Neb., producer took it a big step further.  That winter, he developed his own one-of-a-kind twin-row planter in his farm shop west of Alliance.  Its 24-row (48 twin rows) 60-foot toolbar was built by Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) of Faribault, Minn.  Jelinek mounted John Deere twin-row planting units on the toolbar, with each set of units offset, about 8” apart and separated by 24” from the adjacent set.  He then added Yetter trash managers and an ETS Seed Warrior® central-fill cart for fertilizer delivery.  The cart was controlled with a Deere iSteer Active Implement Guidance system.  That independent steering system, controlled from the tractor cab, minimized the side draft normally associated with a pull-type machine.
       Jelinek planted each set of staggered twin rows into a 10” wide strip-tilled zone that first year, and has continued to do so in succeeding years.  It’s a tight fit, getting both rows into that strip, but Jelinek, his crew and accurate GPS have made it work.  (The strip tillage pass occurs about three weeks ahead of planting in his sandy loam soils, utilizing a 24-row Krause Gladiator.)
       Jelinek’s 2013 crop of irrigated confection sunflower yielded about 3,100 lbs/ac.  Seed size was also excellent, with a plump percentage ranging between 80 and 90.  Seed singulation and placement were very satisfactory, aided by eSet® vacuum metering, Deere’s active pneumatic downforce and a Seedstar™ XP monitoring system.
       So what’s transpired in the past six years?
       First, Jelinek continues to strip till his row-crop acreage — and, he’s still planting in twin rows.  Modifications to the planter have, to date, been minimal — mainly software updates.  “I’ve been toying with the idea of switching it over to an electric drive planter,” he says, “because I think it would be beneficial to not have as many shafts, bearings.”  His planter was built “for the long haul; but I’ll try to keep it updated,” he affirms.
       Sunflower has not been in the Jelinek rotation since 2016.  That’s not because of any dissatisfaction with the crop’s performance or how his twin-row planter handled ’flowers.  Rather, that absence has been due to a combination of (1) available contract prices lower than he believes he needs, and (2) transportation logistics, i.e., distance to market.
       “Our market conditions have changed,” Jelinek states.  “Ownership of some elevators within a couple hundred miles of here has changed hands, and [opportunities] are not what they used to be.
       “One of our biggest hindrances to growing sunflower in this area is that we just don’t have local processors,” he continues.  “If we had a place to deliver locally, that would certainly enter into our decision whether to grow [sunflower],” he states.  Goodland, Kan., the nearest processing market for either confection or oil-type sunflower, is about 270 miles from Alliance, Jelinek points out. 
       “The only way it really works is to store them on our own farm, figure out the trucking logistics and then haul them out,” he observes.  “So there has to be extra value (higher contract price) to offset the extra work (storage) and transportation costs.”
       While Jelinek is certainly open to growing confection sunflower again, be it in 2020 or down the road, for now he’s sticking with corn and dry beans.  (He also operates Jelinek Custom Cleaning, a custom processor of dry beans, chickpeas, lentils and field peas.)
       Of the three row crops — corn, dry beans, sunflower — “dry beans have definitely responded the most” to twin-row production, Jelinek says.  “As we increased populations and narrowed the rows, we saw significant yield responses in dry edible beans — 20% more for sure, consistently, compared to 30” rows,” he relates.  He attributes that improvement to quicker canopy and overall healthier plants.  “Plus, we’re still able to use our traditional [spray and harvesting] equipment that we had for 30” beans and still enjoy the benefits of singulation and plant spacing.” 
       While Jelinek also has experienced improved yields with corn under a twin-row system, it’s not as consistent.  “One year we’ll see a 20-bushel yield bump; the next year, nothing,” he says.  “I don’t see a negative to corn; but neither do I always see a positive, yield-wise.”
       One complication with twin-row corn, the Nebraska Panhandle producer notes, is that losses can be higher if the corn cannot be harvested on a timely basis.  “If it gets too dry or too late, trying to push those twin rows together with a corn head can result in more shatter or ear loss,” he explains.
       That’s not a problem in dry beans or sunflower, though.  When harvesting ’flowers, Jelinek uses a 12-row 30” Sunmaster header.  “That works very nicely because it pulls [the twin rows] together; no problems.”
       As to sunflower in twin rows, does average head size typically improve versus 30” rows, given that both rows are essentially “outside rows” — and sunflower head size tends to compensate in the absence of nearby competition?
       Jelinek believes so.  As in 2013, “the last two years we were in confections (2015 and 2016), we were running in that 80-90% large category,” he recalls.  “We hadn’t gone much higher on our population, compared to 30” rows.  But we did see a yield response, we saw increased seed size — and we had better weed control because we were achieving canopy quicker.”
       Sturdier sunflower stalks provided another benefit from the twin-row configuration.  “It seemed like our plants were a little more resistant to lodging.”
       Metering confection seed drop in the twin rows initially was somewhat challenging, Jelinek admits, “because when you’re dropping 20, -22,000 seeds on twin rows, that’s only 10, -11,000 in each row.  We had to plug every other hole — and sometimes every two out of three — in our meters just to get them to run slow enough to meter the seed, because we were nearly 20” apart [on the in-row seed drop spacing].
       “But we figured it out, and it ended up fine,” Jelinek adds with a smile.  While the plant stand within the two adjacent rows wasn’t a consistent “diamond” pattern across the field, “most of the time we had an offset or diamond pattern to some degree,” he says.
       “I saw no downside to twin-row sunflower,” the western Nebraska irrigated producer concludes. 
       As to when he may transition back into ’flowers, “it’s totally a market matter,” Jelinek affirms. — Don Lilleboe  
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