Twin-row planting may help increase production
By Jennifer Carrico
Finding a way to produce more corn on fewer acres is the goal of one innovator. Iowa farmer John Frahm decided seven years ago to investigate planting corn in twin rows.
“We wanted to be able to produce more yields on our small farm when the market prices were rising. We started searching for information about twin-row production seven years ago and planted our first field five years ago,” said Frahm, who farms with his father, Ken, in Audubon and Crawford counties in west-central Iowa.
Frahm said they couldn’t simply change to twin-row planting without looking at their farm ground, too.
“Soil health is extremely important for us. We want the corn to never have a bad day. That means knowing when and what to add to the soil or topically in order to get the most out of the plant,” Frahm said.
It is also is important to find the right hybrid when planting in twin rows. Frahm said they look for the right hybrid and have tried several different brands.
“Twin-row planting has been around for a long time, but hasn’t typically been planned by a plant breeder. We are going from 23,000 seeds per acre to 45,000 seeds per acre, so we want to be sure the plants have the best opportunity to grow,” Frahm said.
Frahm plants the twin rows in 30-inch intervals and 4 inches from each other, so they can continue to use the other equipment they have including the combine without making adjustments. The twin-row planter came with a learning curve, but the group of producers from across the country whom he’s became contacted with has helped him understand the important things to watch.
“We’ve learned that it’s important for the planter to be level with the ground in order to ensure the seeds are the same depth,” Frahm said. “That way seed emergence is more consistent.”
Some updates on planter settings have been made through the years for efficiency, but the same monitors are used on the twin-row planter as a normal planter.
“We still get off the tractor to make sure the planter is putting the seeds in the ground correctly. You can’t guarantee everything will be perfect just because the monitor says it is,” Frahm said.
Timing of planting is very challenging for the twin-row producer, which also goes along with hybrid selection. He said it’s important to work with a seedsman who understands what they are looking for, including a shorter statured corn so there is less residue in the end.
“We will have a lot more residue in the end with the higher populations, so selecting the right hybrid is very important. We need a shorter statured corn plant with a strong stalk and ear connection,” he said.
While the ultimate goal is to increase yields by increasing the plant population per acre, Frahm said they have seen both and increase and a decrease in yields on their farm.
“There are so many factors involved in raising corn in any kind of situation. Mother Nature is always the factor that is unknown,” Frahm said.
In 2013, his farm had abundant rains in early spring but no rain after May, and their yields were still 180 bushels per acre. He said the corn actually ran out of nitrogen before it ran out of water. The middle and end of the growing season is when the corn needs the nitrogen more than during the first part of the growing season.
Research at Purdue University showed differences in yields of twin-row fields mostly based on weather conditions as well. Agronomy professor Tony Vyn said corn yields are strongly dependent on the environment, hybrid, nitrogen supply and/or water availability.
“The highest grain yields were not automatically associated with the highest plant density evaluated in our studies. There are so many other factors involved in this,” Vyn said.
The researchers also believe that there is a level of plant density that can deter from yield because of too high of a plant competition.
Vyn said the challenge is figuring out what is the best condition for planting in twin rows since the research results are so varied.
Frahm said one of the advantages of planting in the twin rows is the plants get to canopy sooner and weeds are easier to control. They don’t add a pre-planting herbicide, but rather need an application a bit later in the growing season.
“It can be a challenge to spray with the twin rows and with the hills on our farm ground. But the shorter statured corn makes it easier to spray,” Frahm said. High-clearance sprayers are available, but they may be able to spray the corn this year with a normal sprayer depending on when it needs done.
They have also decided to use a different kind of nitrogen application that will release the nitrogen later in the season and hopefully will provide enough nitrogen for the plant when it is most needed.
“We have to cut down stress to a minimum. We apply gypsum to increase our soil health,” Frahm said. “We want to keep it simple but give the corn plant the best opportunity to perform.”
He said they have even planted some fields of soybeans with the twin-row system if the timing is too late for corn, but they prefer to just keep the twin rows on corn ground.
The Frahms have planted twin rows in both a continuous corn option and a corn, soybean rotation. He said it’s important to be flexible and know the ground before deciding to plant the twin rows. Planting twin rows in a continuous corn situation can be more challenging because there is more residue from the previous year.
While Frahm doesn’t always see a yield increase, he said he will continue to use the twin-row system.
“It’s a continual learning experience. When we have the ideal weather conditions, we should see a larger increase in yields. We haven’t found the ideal hybrid yet either but hope that some of our recent changes will help with yield increases,” Frahm said. “You have to be willing to try new things and a lot of farmers have trouble with that.”
Vyn said the three-year research done at Purdue didn’t show a significant increase in yield of the twin-row system as compared to a single-row system. He said they think row and plant spacing could have a lot more to do with yield.
“In our research, the lack of response to twin rows may also have been influenced by the inability to achieve the theoretically optimum spacing arrangement,” Vyn said. “Future research should explore the physiological consequences of alternate planting arrangements with comparable or superior spacing precision to traditional practice in different environments.”
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.