By Daniel Davidson

DTN Agronomist

OMAHA (DTN)--Most growers want a picket-fence row of corn plants. They can only achieve this by making sure their metering units are singulating seed correctly, the seed is place at the right depth, the seed will not bounce, roll or stick to the side wall when dropped and the seed is firmly covered with soil once planted.

The past couple of years I noticed we had skips and doubles. We tested our metering units this winter and they were singulating properly. We plant at a reasonable speed of four to four-and-a-half miles an hour and at the right depth of 1.5 inches.

Everything was working well, but we were still having problems with uniform spacing and, as an agronomist, that disturbed me. This past weekend (late April) I installed a set of seed firmers on my corn planter and we will see if we have corrected our spacing problem.

A properly configured and adjusted planter will singulate corn seed in the furrow, place it at the right depth and cover and firm the soil over the top. But if the seed rolls or bounces or misses a seed drop, growers will still have doubles and skips.

Seed firming units ensure the seed is placed in the bottom of the furrow, does not roll and will not hang on the sidewall.

Several companies make seed firmer units that place seed uniformly at the bottom of the furrow, which is the small ditch in which the seed is dropped.

Seed firmer units are positioned directly behind the seed tube. The seed tube directs the seed into the furrow, then the seed firmer catches the seeds and guides them to the bottom of the furrow.

The seed firmers' objective is to consistently place seed at the bottom of the V-shaped furrow.

Seed firmers are designed to funnel seeds uniformly to the bottom of the furrow while keeping seeds from bouncing out or rolling out of position. The firmers are shaped to fit the furrow and peel lodged seeds off the side of the furrow wall.

Companies manufacturing and marketing the units claim the result is more uniform seed placement and depth, better emergence and higher grain yields. Farm Journal magazine reported in 1996 results from on-farm comparisons where corn grain yields averaged five to six bushels more with the use of seed firmers.

They may work under some conditions and may not add any benefit under other conditions. Growers need to decide if they are having spacing problems and if seed firmers provide enough value to justify their minimal cost.

But other factors that have an influence on stand uniformity and yield might need to be addressed. These include ensuring proper planting speed, maintaining the planter and its moving parts, checking for worn parts and replacing them according to manufacturers' guidelines and making sure that the planter is running level.

Seed firmers will not cover for otherwise poor management. They may also need to be taken off or lifted when planting in wet conditions to avoid mud build up and seed "dragging," which is when the seed is dragged along the side or bottom of the furrow.

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