Planting in residue

Having row cleaners on a planter to push crop residue aside and create a mellow strip of soil for each row unit to place seed is a must in high-residue fields. But it’s not the attachments themselves that make the difference. It’s how you use and adjust them, say farmers who plant into lots of residue.

Ed Ulch and son Brian near Solon in eastern Iowa have a no-till planter and use row cleaners. “We try to get the row cleaners set properly for different soil types and residue situations,” says Ed. “Sometimes it’s a bit aggravating to have to stop and adjust the row cleaners when planting conditions change. But adjusting them just one notch can make a difference in how well they work. It’s also important to replace worn parts.”

It’s worth it to get better seed placement. “Managing higher amounts of crop residue means we have to set the row cleaners so they perform aggressively enough to clean the rows but not run too deep. We take time to adjust them when needed,” notes Ed. “In the middles between the rows, we sometimes have crop residue piled pretty high. It’s a challenge.”

Key Points

It takes a well-equipped no-till planter to handle high-residue situations.

Take the time to make adjustments to row-cleaner attachments when needed.

Crop residue, field conditions can change even between morning and afternoon.


They plant corn in 30-inch rows and soybeans in 7.5- and 15-inch rows. In wet situations, the no-till, narrow-row system doesn’t work well. “We prefer to have a day with dry weather to plant,” he says. “We try to choose a dry day to plant our highest-residue fields for the row cleaners to be able to most effectively move the residue.”

Do you have to increase your seeding rate when planting into high amounts of residue? Farmers want to avoid that to control seed costs. The goal is to plant fewer seeds per acre with soybeans without lowering yield; research shows it can be done. For corn, to take advantage of the genetic potential of new hybrids, studies indicate many farmers may boost yield by planting a little higher population.

Good start, good stand

“The past few years we’ve lowered our seeding rates for soybeans and increased them slightly for corn,” says Ed.

“For corn we’ve raised them only a little. We now top out at about 32,000 seeds per acre for the white corn we plant, and a little higher for yellow corn. Some people will go higher, but we haven’t seen evidence it pays to do so,” he adds.

For soybeans, the Ulches have gone from planting 200,000 beans per acre several years ago, down to about 180,000 to 160,000. They planted some at 140,000 and 120,000 seeds per acre in strip trials last year and saw less than a bushel-per-acre difference. The Ulches participate in the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network strip trials to evaluate seeding rates for corn and soybeans.

Starter fertilizer is also beneficial to help get corn off to a good start in high-residue no-till, notes Ed.

There’s a lot of interest in vertical tillage, as farmers figure out fields and situations where it may pay to do some vertical tillage to handle the heavy buildup of crop residue. “After testing several machines, last year we bought a Salford, a vertical-tillage implement,” says Ed. “We use it on some of our ground, such as flat fields or bottom ground where crop residue is really building up to levels where it’s hard to handle with strictly no-till.” To help pay for it, they rent the vertical-tillage tool out to other farmers to use.

White corn tends to produce more crop residue than does yellow corn. White corn usually grows taller and has a thicker stalk. But generally, all cornfields are producing more crop residue today with bigger yields and more plants per acre.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.