Try Skip-Row Planting On Tough Dryland Sites

UNL research on this practice began in 2003. It stretches soil moisture supply.

Published on: Feb 20, 2013

With drought on everyone's mind, there are planting strategies that could help produce grain under tough dryland conditions. University of Nebraska Extension crops specialist for the western part of the state, Bob Klein, recommends no-till skip-row planting configurations in some circumstances, to increase yield over standard planting patterns.

"Research with skip-row corn began in 2003 after I observed that in a hybrid grain sorghum test in 2002, the only plots that produced grain were in areas where the plots on either side failed to produce viable stands because of poor seed quality and un-adapted hybrids," Klein says. The idea is to keep developing corn from using all available soil water too early in the growing season. "Because water in the soil between widely spaced rows can't be reached by the plants until later in the season, there is water available to the plants in July and August," Klein says.

EXTEND SOIL MOISTURE: dry year on non-irrigated corn, no-till skip row corn may increase yields over standard patterns.
EXTEND SOIL MOISTURE: dry year on non-irrigated corn, no-till skip row corn may increase yields over standard patterns.

After 10 years of research in southwest Nebraska, no-till skip-row planting corn into heavy wheat residue has resulted in improved yields, compared to standard planting patterns where each row is planted at 30-inch spacing. Skip-row is probably not for high yielding situations, but could work well for risk-averse farmers who are trying to grow crops in tough central Great Plains dryland conditions.

According to Klein, requirements include a seedbed that includes heavy wheat stubble or the equivalent crop residue levels of, 4000 pounds per acre with good residue distribution, good weed management after planting, planting herbicide-tolerant crops and equipment able to plant into heavy crop residue without tillage. For areas where the expected crop yield is less than 120 bushels per acre, it is recommended to plant two rows and skip two rows. For more productive fields where the expected yield is up to 160 bushels per acre, producers should plant two rows and skip one row.

"Some yield will be sacrificed if drought stress is not experienced, compared to conventional planting," Klein says. "But yields can be improved up to 40 bushels per acre in limited soil water situations."

He cautions farmers considering skip-row planting to contact their crop insurance agent and local Farm Service Agency offices, to learn how skip-row planting would impact their insurance coverage and FSA requirements. Klein also recommends trying skip-row planting on a smaller scale at first to see how the patterns work into the producer's operation.

For more information about skip-row planting trials and other management strategies related to drought, contact Klein at 308-696-6705 or email rklein1@unl.edu.