Conventional wisdom amongst most farmers and agronomists has always been that by harvest, and for sure after harvest, it's too late to learn anything from examining the field and rows that could help you do a better job of planting next year.
Ken Sauder of Precision Planting, speaking to farmers in northern Indiana recently, says that's not true. If you haven't already tilled your stalk field, you can learn things by going back and taking a closer look at stalk placement, stalk diameter and root systems. What you learn may be able to help you make one or more changes for 2013 that could mean more bushels and more money on your bottom line.
"There is no magic bullet for planting that will help you increase corn yield all at once," he says. "It's a lot of small things that add up two to three bushels at a time. A good goal is to try to find three things that weren't quite right this year that you can improve on next year."
Many people are writing sub-par or worse yields off to the drought and heat. While that was the driving factor, Sauder says it's a mistake just to assume the drought was responsible for everything. He hints that in many fields, yields would not have been perfect even with a good growing season.
When he walks into a stalk field after harvest, he looks for stalks that are thinner than their neighbors. "A thin stalk is often a sign that the seed was planted too shallow," he says. "If you see lots of these, figure out why you weren't getting the depth you thought you were."
If he sees doubles, he knows there was a problem. It wasn't necessarily a meter problem. Especially if there are plants less than four inches apart but not side-by-side, it may be a misplaced seed that bounced down the seed tube and didn't get to the right place.
Look for clues then go back to the planter and see how you could fix problems, he suggests.