Diagnosing Emergence Issues Using a Square-Bottom Spade

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By: Gary Brinkman, CCA, CPAg, Pioneer Field Agronomist

Dig to the Bottom of Emergence Issues

  • The square-bottom spade is a useful agronomic tool that can help get a better picture of emergence issues below ground.
  • The square-bottom spade helps to visually see emergence issues that would be difficult to reveal with a trowel digging from the top down.

Opening Up the Seed Furrow with a Square-Bottom Spade

  1. Place the spade about 4-6 inches from the row and insert it to a depth of about 8-10 inches.
  2. Place your other hand on the opposite side of the seed row and hold it in place while you pry with the spade
  3. The seed furrow seam should open with relative ease.
  4. Getting the soil to break cleanly at the seed furrow slot doesn’t work every time. It works best when the soil is moist and/or has a higher clay content. This technique helps preserve the structure of soil around the seeding and can reveal the presence of side wall compaction. 

This plant has restricted root growth due to the side wall compaction. The roots are also showing some seedling diseases. This combination of factors has slowed the growth of this emerging seedling.





Diagnosis of Early Emergence Issues









  • Take advantage of the natural soil seam created by the planter’s double disc openers to help reveal emergence issues.
  • Learn the technique of opening this soil seam with a square-bottom spade.
    • Place the square-bottom spade 4-6 inches from the row.
    • Insert the spade well below the seed depth 8-10 inches deep.
  • Pry open this soil seam and invite the grower to observe what is happening below ground.
  • Remember that the health of the radicle and seminal roots is the primary driver for uniform emergence.
    • These roots start the plant’s race to the soil surface and will determine which plants become winners or losers.
    • An insect bite, root decay, or side-wall compaction can set these important roots at a growth disadvantage which can turn these plants into runts.

The foregoing is provided for informational use only. Please contact your Pioneer sales professional for information and suggestions specific to your operation. Product performance is variable and depends on many factors such as moisture and heat stress, soil type, management practices and environmental stress as well as disease and pest pressures. Individual results may vary. Pioneer® brand products are provided subject to the terms and conditions of purchase which are part of the labeling and purchase documents.

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