If your no-till planter simply cannot handle the trash it 'sees' during the planter operation, then maybe you need to consider one or more of the various planter gadgets on the market that 'prepare' the row ahead of or behind the planter row unit. Some of these gadgets move trash from the row area, allowing the row unit to 'see' a clean planting surface. Others till a narrow strip of soil, incorporating some of the trash and providing some soil aeration. Finally, some gadgets firm the seed in place, purporting to improve seed-to-soil contact in no-till.
Benefits of Strip Preparation. Where it is needed, strip preparation gadgets may help the soil dry and warm faster, improve seed-to-soil contact, improve seed depth control, or reduce the potential for allelopathic effects from decomposing trash. Strip preparation is most beneficial when planting into no-till seed zones that are prone to being nightmares for corn germination and emergence. These include heavy levels of surface trash (continuous corn, winter cover crops, or trash spread unevenly from the previous harvest), poorly drained soils (where trash especially delays soil drying and warmup) and corn cropping areas of the Northern Corn Belt that normally are slower to warm up anyway.
Seed Firming Contraptions. In recent years, a number of contraptions have become available to improve seed-to-soil contact in no-till conditions. These can be categorized as firming knives or blades, in-furrow firming wheels, furrow sidewall shavers, or furrow finger fluffers. Seed firming contraptions are attractive for situations where seed-to-soil contact is inadequate due to poor slot closure. The problem is that these situations occur primarily where the seedbed is too wet for planting (i.e., you have no business being in the field anyway!).
To Invest or Not? When deciding whether to invest in planter gadgets, first consider how often you have problems with no-till stand establishment. If you rarely have germination and emergence problems, then maybe you shouldn't throw $$$ into solutions for problems you don't have. To justify the cost, planter gadgets should either 1) consistently improve grain yield compared to straight no-till or 2) help you sleep better at night knowing that 1 year out of 10 they will save your hide!
Bottom Line. In summary, planter gadgets may 1) improve seed placement because the planter 'sees' a clean surface, 2) improve the success of germination because of potentially warmer seed zones and improved seed-to-soil contact and 3) improve early root development because of potentially warmer rooting zones. In practice, planter gadgets may not improve grain yield where traditional no-till is already successful. They are likely more beneficial in continuous no-till corn rather than in no-till corn/soybean rotations. And remember, none of these planter gadgets give you the license to plant in cold, wet conditions that are not suitable for rapid, uniform corn germination and emergence.
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The Corn Growers Guidebook , a WWW resource for corn management systems in Indiana and the eastern CornBelt.
Purdue University Agronomy Extension WWW Home Page.
Purdue Agronomy On-Line! , Purdue's Agronomy Department WWW Home Page.