“Whenever we put that kernel in the ground, we want to maximize its potential, so we’re focusing on what the planter does to the seed environment. That micro-environment around the seed is critical.

As a crop consultant, Lehmkuhl says one of the biggest problems he sees is stand establishment and emergence. “Whenever we see that first spike coming out of the ground, I want to see all seeds following suit and spiking out of the ground at 24 and 48 hours. That’s when we get good uniform emergence and good stands.”

There are risks, he says, in planting in marginal ground temperature — 50 to 60 degrees — and planting ahead of a cold rain.

“As the cold rain falls on top of that seed, and it takes its first drink, you’re going to have some problems. That cold water will cause shock, and you’ll have emergence issues. So pay attention to the weather and hold back if you need to.”

High yield corn is not in plant population, he says, but in ear count.

“You need to get with your seed guy to know the plant population you need for your variety. If he says you need to be at 34,000, then that’s where you need to be. Everybody pretty much knows their seed-per-acre planting. If it’s set for 36,000, then that’s where we should have 36,000.”

True yield, says Lehmkuhl, comes from ears per acre at harvest. “Let’s assume your seed has 95-percent germination according to the seed tag. The seeds-per-acre planted was 36,000, and hopefully there are 34,000 plants per acre to harvest.

“Ears per acre at harvest should be 34,000. If you take an ear count, and you’ve got only 30,000 ears, you had better start asking yourself why. You’re losing money. We want viable, harvestable, picture-perfect ears.”

If you lose 1,000 ears per acre, that’s 5 to 7 bushels, he says. If you go from 18 to 16 kernels around, it represents a loss of 20 bushels per acre.

“That can happen with early season stress and fertilizer being too close to the seed. It doesn’t matter if you’re on 30-inch rows or 36-inch rows, the goal is to put an ear on every plant.”

Lehmkuhl says growers should not set their planter hitch height on gravel out in the farmyard or on the shop floor.

“Take your planter out to the actual working conditions in the field to set your planter’s hitch height.

“There are a lot of three-point planters in the South. Those of you who are pulling two-point fold planters need to understand where that three-point hitch is going to be.”

The seed tube, he says, needs to be running straight. If you change the pitch and the angle of the seed tube, there will be plant emergence issues.

“If you’re running it downhill, your no-till coulter is going to run too deep, and your closing wheel pressure is lightened. You’ve got to level the planter in the field, and you can’t do it standing still. It has to be done in motion, so you’ll have to have someone helping you.”

The bar should be level across the entire planter, he says. “When you’re out there leveling the planter, if you’re running both conventional and no-till, that is going to change for you as go into the different fields and tillage methods.”