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Rarely do we see a paper published on corn-seeding depth and the subsequent impact on grain yield. Precision technologies have allowed for the capabilities of variable-rate seeding, multi-hybrid planting on the go and the ability to vary planting depth in real time in response to real-time soil-moisture data. In a paper published by Nemergut et al. (2021), corn seed was planted at 1-, 2- and 3-inch depths on two soil types in Ohio during three growing season – 2017 to 2019.Shallow planting resulted in less-uniform more-extended emergence periods than 2- and 3-inch planting depths. If a plant emerged within three days of the first-emerged neighboring plants, then there was no effect on plant grain yield. Any plant that emerged more than three days after the first-emerged plant had a 5 percent decrease in kernel weight per day.Grain yield per plant increased as planting depth increased. Grain yield per acre was significantly increased by planting depth, with seed planted at 2- and 3-inches yielding 8 percent or 10 percent more than the 1-inch seeding depth on one of the two soils. Other researchers have also shown improving emergence uniformity can positively increase yield, and that optimum planting depth may vary by field.According to the paper, concerns related to optimizing production practices on existing land area are driving field-crop-production innovations in the United States. Decisions on planting depth can be important for producers, as optimum seed placement may ultimately affect emergence uniformity. Non-uniformity in plant emergence has been attributed to decreased yields; plants that are two leaf stages behind their neighbors can produce 35 percent to 47 percent less per plant (Liu et al, 2004).
The current planting-depth recommendations for corn (Zea mays L.) producers in the state of Ohio range from 1.5 to 2 inches (Thomison et al., 2017). Producers may plant shallower than that, especially in April, to obtain an earlier emergence when temperatures begin to warm. Concerns with planting too shallow generally revolve around non-uniformity in soil conditions, which could affect corn-seed germination and emergence. Shallow planting has resulted in variable emergence because seeds nearer the surface are subject to more-variable temperature and moisture conditions (Cox & Cherney, 2015).Precipitation during the planting window is greatly variable from year to year. That poses a challenge for producers because planting too shallowly may not provide adequate moisture for the seed. Soil characteristics such as soil texture, organic matter, tillage and subsurface drainage affected optimum planting depth (Cox & Cherney, 2015). Soil temperature and moisture content are also critical in predicting germination and emergence in corn (Alessi & Power, 1971; Alm et al., 1993; Dwyer et al., 2000; Forcella et al., 2000). Increasing planting depth may improve uniformity of moisture and temperature within the seed furrow. But planting too deep may have detrimental effects because the mesocotyl must increase its length and the coleoptile must travel a longer distance to break the soil surface (Blacklow, 1972). And soil temperatures may decrease with increasing depth, to potentially delay emergence. Those concerns result in increasing interest in managing depth of seed placement during planting.Modern planting equipment, such as planters equipped with seed firmers and applied downforce systems, may improve consistency of seed placement. But targeting the appropriate depth with initial assessment may still be necessary (Badua et al., 2021; Virk et al., 2020). Determining how soil temperature and moisture at different planting depth impacts emergence, growth and yield is paramount to optimize emergence uniformity. Improving our understanding of corn response to planting depth across different soil types and conditions may enable more-effective use of planting technologies that allow variable planting depths during the planting operation. The objective of this research was to determine the effects of planting depth and soil type on emergence, growth and development, and final grain yield.Visit acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/agj2.20701 to read the entire paper.
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Joe Lauer is an expert on corn production, transgenic crops and cropping systems in the Midwest. He’s a professor of agronomy in the University of Wisconsin-College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and member of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America. Email [email protected] to reach him.
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