EDITOR’S NOTE — The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recently hosted a Planter Clinic at the E.V. Smith Research Center in the east-central part of the state. Presenters discussed the calibration and setup of planter units, new metering technology, and the impact of planter performance on crop yields. Beginning today, we will present a three-part series highlighting information presented at the clinic.

“The sins of planting will haunt you all season.”

Ozzie Luetkemeier, Purdue University

The ultimate goal of optimizing planter performance is to make high yields, but there are some factors that even the most finely tuned planter can’t overcome.

“You have to make sure you have adequate soil fertility and pH, manage any compaction problems to make a good zone in which plants can develop, use quality seed, plant in a timely fashion, and obviously you need a good stand,” says Kip Balkcom of the USDA-ARS National Soils Dynamics Lab in Auburn, Ala.

Planting is a critical component that affects everything else farmers do, says Balkcom. Considering the future demands on agriculture worldwide, the effects are far-reaching, he adds.

“World population continues to increase, growing exponentially in recent decades. We’re at 7 billion people now, and we’re expected to be at 9 billion by 2050. That’s a lot more mouths to feed. That problem is complicated by the fact that our arable land is decreasing.

“It’s not just a problem in the United States, but it’s one shared by countries throughout the world. This is a direct result of an increasing population and urban sprawl.

“Even if our arable land doesn’t decrease, we’ve still got to increase our efficiency, and we need to produce more than what we’ve produced previously,” he says.

One of the many factors that affect planting is the date, which depends upon soil temperature, says Balkcom.

“Our planting dates are, in a way, set for us. We can tweak those known dates or time periods. And many times, growers tweak them earlier to get the crop in as early as possible. This sometimes leads to cooler and wetter soils. You don’t want to plant in an environment that puts that seed at a disadvantage from the very beginning and increases the potential for disease.”

Planting dates must be managed carefully, says Balkcom. “With cotton, we know we need to have a soil temperature of around 65 degrees F. for four or five consecutive days. Then we have to take a look at the weather following the planting. Will we have enough heat units to get those plants out of the ground and get it off to a good start? These are all important considerations.”