There are so many different varieties of corn available, it can be hard for a farmer to decide which variety he wants to plant. Some are more tolerant of dry spells, some are more tolerant of wet conditions, some are more resistant to bugs, some grow better in one type of soil or another.
So how should you decide which variety you want to plant? You plant a test plot!
I had the chance to spend the afternoon with Roy Boeglin of Boeglin Farms (and his pal Buddy) to tag along while he planted this year’s test plot of corn.
He is using a 12-row planter with individual hoppers. This planter has bulk tanks for starter fertilizer, but it does not have a bulk tank for seed, like the other planter we saw.
Roy planted 6 rows of each type of seed. So six of the hoppers were filled with one variety, and the other six were filled with another variety. (This isn’t Roy. This is one of his seed dealers.)
Since Roy was only planting six rows of each seed variety, and not the whole field, only a little seed was put into each hopper.
Roy took off down the field, planting 12 rows at a time. This planter uses a guide arm to help with steering. Roy runs down the field with one guide arm out, making a groove in the soil. When he turns around, he knows he needs to line the center of the tractor up with the groove the guide arm made in order to plant his next 12 rows in the right location.
There is a monitor inside the tractor to help him keep his rows straight. He tries to keep the row of lights straight, like they are in this photo. If he starts to run a little crooked, the lights will shift around the arc to tell him which direction he needs to adjust.
There is also a monitor to keep track of the seed density he is planting. This will help him know that each row has approximately the same number of seeds. This will be especially important at harvest time when he compares the yields of each variety of corn.
Here’s the hopper at the end of the row…
And since not quite all the seeds got planted, they get sucked out with a Shop-Vac. Roy is going to use a different seed variety on the next trip down the field, so he wants to be sure he is only planting the seeds he wants.
Each set of six rows is marked with a flag, labeled with the variety of seed that was used.
During harvest in the fall, Roy will harvest only six rows at a time (one variety of corn), and weigh the total amount of corn for each variety. The varieties with the highest weight win! This will help Roy know for next year which varieties will grow best in this type of soil, with his management system. Roy has fields all over the county, so the corn variety that grew best here might not be the best for every single field he has. Weather can vary a lot from year to year, so the variety that grows best in this dry spring might not do as well if it rains a lot next year. A lot of farming is guess-work, but this test plot will give Roy a lot of useful information for planting next year.
And, of course, Buddy will be tagging along for harvest, too!