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Maximizing Corn Emergence and Uniformity in High-Residue Fields

 

Maximizing Corn Emergence and Uniformity in High-Residue Fields

Crop Insights by Maria Stoll1 and Imad Saab2

Summary

  • Hybrid selection is crucial to establishing productive stands and achieving high yields. Pioneer annually conducts early planted emergence trials in high-residue fields to evaluate hybrid performance under early season stress.
  • Pioneer stress emergence and high-residue suitability ratings give guidance to growers selecting hybrids for early planting and reduced-tillage systems.
  • In stressful, high-residue environments, Pioneer hybrids with higher stress emergence scores establish higher stands, on average, than ones with lower scores.
  • Pioneer hybrids with highly suitable (HS) and suitable (S) high-residue suitability ratings produced higher and more uniform stands in high-residue locations than hybrids with a poorly suited (X) rating.
  • High-residue environments are more commonly associated with non-uniform emergence and "runt" plants due to uneven planting depth, temperature and moisture variability, and physical residue impediments.
  • The use of row cleaners and other planter modifications can improve seed-to-soil contact, promote soil warming and help reduce "runt" plants.
  • Planting at soil temperatures above 50°F or prior to a warming trend promotes rapid and uniform emergence in high-residue fields.

Introduction

Trends toward early corn planting and conservation tillage systems increase the risk of reduced and uneven stands and subsequent yield loss. Soil temperatures at planting are typically well below the optimal temperature for corn emergence, which is around 85°F. Soils under heavy residue are typically wetter and cooler than bare soils in the early spring, adding extra cold stress and disease pressure. In addition to moisture and temperature disparities within the seedbed, uneven residue can also cause variations in planting depth, all contributing to uneven emergence and "runt" plants (plants at least one leaf stage behind most others). To improve stand establishment, it is critical to mitigate these risks with good management practices.

Figure 1. Excellent stands produced in a corn-after-corn field near Schuyler, NE in 2008, despite high residue and snow after early planting.

Excellent stands produced in a corn-after-corn field despite high residue and snow after early planting.

Hybrid selection for high-residue fields

Every year, Pioneer conducts extensive emergence trials under a wide range of stressful environments and soil types, including early planted and reduced-tillage fields. Using data from stressful locations, as well as lab assays that mimic extreme cold stress, Pioneer assigns each hybrid a stress emergence score, which is based on the genetic potential for a hybrid to establish stand under stress conditions (e.g., cold, wet soils or environments with short periods of severe low temperatures). Scores range from 1 to 9, with 1 to 4 indicating below average stress emergence relative to other Pioneer hybrids, 5 indicating average, and 6 to 9 indicating above average performance. In Pioneer’s stressful environments, hybrids with higher stress emergence scores typically produce higher stands than lower rated hybrids (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Relationship between early stand and stress emergence score in 2009-2010 stressful, high-residue locations*.

Relationship between early stand and stress emergence score in stressful, high-residue locations.

*Error bars represent +/- the standard error of the mean where n = the number of hybrids tested in each SE score category.

Pioneer also assigns high-residue suitability (HRS) ratings of highly suitable (HS), suitable (S) or poorly suited (X) for hybrid performance in reduced-tillage systems. Disease and stress emergence traits are key in high-residue fields. The HRS rating is calculated from the following five trait scores: stress emergence, northern corn leaf blight, anthracnose stalk rot, gray leaf spot, and Diplodia ear rot. The relative importance of each trait can vary by region. Therefore, the HRS rating is adjusted for each market region in North America.

In Pioneer’s high-residue emergence trials, hybrids with an HRS rating of poorly suited (X) produced lower stands on average than ones with a rating of suitable (S) or highly suitable (HS), regardless of temperature stress level (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Relationship between early stand and high-residue suitability (HRS) rating in 2009-2010 high-residue locations**.

Relationship between early stand and high-residue suitability (HRS) rating in high-residue locations

**Error bars represent +/- the standard error of the mean where n = the number of hybrids tested in each HRS rating category.

Reduced-tillage systems can also lead to uneven stands and "runts". In Pioneer trials, hybrids with a highly suitable (HS) rating tend to produce fewer runt plants (those at least one leaf stage behind) than suitable (S) and poorly suited (X) hybrids (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Relationship between early runts and high-residue suitability (HRS) rating in 2009-2010 high-residue locations**.

Relationship between early runts and high-residue suitability (HRS) rating in high-residue locations

Managing planting in high-residue fields

Reduced-tillage systems present challenges to growers. Heavy residue can hinder planting efforts (Figure 5). Planting problems, such as hairpinning, sidewall compaction, lack of consistent seeding depth and failure of the furrow to close properly over the seed, reduce critical seed-to-soil contact.

Figure 5. Heavy residue in corn-on-corn field provides physical barriers to seedling emergence in Pioneer corn emergence trials.

Heavy residue in corn-on-corn field provides physical barriers to seedling emergence.
 

To help improve stand establishment in high-residue systems, it is important to set up and operate the planter appropriately. Below are some general guidelines for planting in high-residue seedbeds. However, since planter operation may vary widely with soil type and conditions, it is helpful to consult with your area agronomist or other no-tillers in your area to determine the best equipment and practices for your farm.

The use of row cleaners ("residue managers") to clear the planting row of residue can aid the planting and emergence process by removing the physical barriers on the soil surface and speeding up soil warming after a cold spell (Figure 6). Spoked or spider row cleaners can be advantageous in heavy residue and wet soils. These row cleaners can be set to move residue without disturbing the soil, allowing warming and drying on the row. Floating row cleaners that better follow the contours of the soil surface are also available from some manufacturers.

Figure 6. Row cleaner failure (middle row) reduced stand and vigor compared to cleaned strip (right row) in corn-on-corn field near Schuyler, NE.

Row cleaner failure reduced stand and vigor compared to cleaned strip in corn-on-corn field.
 

Planting slightly deeper (at least 2 inches deep) can help overcome some of the moisture and temperature variability found near the soil surface in reduced-till soils. An aggressive setting for down pressure springs may be needed to keep gauge wheels in solid contact with the ground. Seed firmers can also help with seed placement in the planting slot.

Several variations of closing wheels are available to help close the planting furrow, depending on soil tilth and moisture. Spiked closing wheels tend to work better on heavy or wet soils, reducing sidewall compaction and closing the planting slot. Alternatively, growers can use one spiked wheel with one rubber wheel.

Because of its impact on stand establishment and yield, choosing a planting date is one of the most important crop management decisions for growers. Planting when the soil is too wet can interfere with row closure and cause sidewall compaction. Allocate extra time for the soil under heavy residue to dry before planting. Soil temperature data collected at Pioneer research plots show that planting at soil temperatures below 50°F often leads to reduced stands. Also, it is important to monitor weather patterns. Snow, cold rain or extended periods of cold weather after planting imposes significant stress on corn.

Good residue management practices are crucial to realize the benefits of reduced-tillage systems. Selecting the right hybrid, modifying the planter and choosing a suitable planting date all help improve stand establishment in high-residue fields. Additional information on these topics can be found in the Crop Insights articles and websites listed below.

1 Maria Stoll, Pioneer Senior Research Associate, North America Maize Product Development, Seed Science group.

2 Imad Saab, Pioneer Research Scientist, North America Maize Product Development, Seed Science group.

 

Additional resources

Butzen, S. 2006. Best management practices for corn-after-corn production. Crop Insights Vol. 16, No. 14.

Butzen, S. and M. DeFelice. 2005. High-residue suitability rating for Pioneer brand corn hybrids. Crop Insights Vol. 15, No. 18.

Butzen, S., C. Tiffany and D. Goebel. 2010. Managing corn residue in corn production. Crop Insights Vol. 20, No. 8.

Meese, B. 2005. Reduced-tillage systems for crop production. Crop Insights Vol. 15, No. 14.

Saab, I. 2009. Lessons from early planted corn emergence trials. Crop Insights Vol. 19, No. 7.

Saab, I. 2005. Stress emergence in corn. Crop Insights Vol. 15, No. 6.

Tillage Organizations and Websites

Colorado Conservation Tillage Association

Conservation Technology Information Center

Dakota Lakes Research Farm

Manitoba-North Dakota Zero Tillage Farmers Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

No-Till Farmer

No-Till on the Plains

South Dakota No-Till Association

USDA-ARS Conservation Systems Research – National Soil Dynamics Laboratory

Western Australian No-Tillage Farmers Association

 

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