When you dig to determine if the planter is placing seed at the right depth in each row this spring, pay attention to more than just finding the seed. Bill Lehmkuhl says you should also observe the entire micro-environment around the seed. The Ohio-based consultant and farmer says that if the micro-environment isn't favorable, your plants won't get off to a fast start and yields could suffer.
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One of the biggest things to look for is whether there is sidewall soil compaction and smearing of the trench, he notes. If the down pressure on the row units is too strong or if soils are on the wet side and closing wheels are creating sidewall compaction, you may be confining the third set of nodal roots, the most important roots to the young seedling, within the trench and forcing them to work much harder to find a way out of the trench and down into the soil. You won't be happy with the results, he says.
Lehmkuhl is a believer in digging pits during the season and seeing where compacted layers might be. Then he uses an in-line ripper running under the layer when soils are dry to shatter the layer. That sets the stage for a better seedbed than what you had before. Once you do that you need to take care not to create soil compaction again either before or while you are planting, he notes.
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How do you know if there is a compacted layer in the field? Watch your plants this spring and they will tell you, he adds. If you see them seemingly stand still for a week before taking off, dig roots. If roots are going sideways, that means they hit a compacted layer and were forced to adjust. Whenever they're forced to slow down or stop and turn, you stand to lose yield, he notes.