Planting With Precision

Know the factors important for setting the correct downforce.

planting with downforceGeorgia farmers with reduced plant stands in 2019 may be able to correct those problems in 2020 by properly setting and using downforce on their planters, says Wes Porter, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist and precision agriculture expert.

Downforce is the pressure farmers apply to their row unit to ensure it maintains the depth at which the planter is set. Farmers typically set planter depth, but don’t always check or change the downforce of their planters, Porter says.

Plant At The Proper Depth

Producers can save time, seed and money by understanding the use of downforce when planting their crops. The downforce system on the planter helps growers avoid planting seed at the incorrect depth – either too deep or too shallow. Planting at the wrong depth leaves seed vulnerable to the environment and may result in a lack of germination and stand establishment with the subsequent yield loss.

High temperatures and lack of rainfall in May 2019 led to difficult planting conditions for farmers with dryland fields, or fields lacking adequate irrigation. In multiple fields, Porter discovered that if seeds weren’t planted deep enough, they didn’t germinate and emerge.

“If we didn’t put the seed down where it needed to be, near the surface soil temperatures were so hot it burned the seed and they never germinated,” Porter says. “Around the state, you could see poor stands.”

Consider Field Conditions

It’s important to consider the field conditions when setting downforce. Imagine a grower who tries to plant in late spring when it’s dry and near or at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The planter requires a lot more downforce to plant seeds at the proper depth because the soil is harder. If the grower plants in moist soil, it doesn’t need as much downforce, Porter says.

The same is true if you compare a sandy soil with one that contains more clay. Sandy soil is much looser and softer, so farmers don’t need as much downforce versus planting into a clay soil. The amount of downforce is critical for seed to reach the appropriate depth.

“There are advanced control systems available, either retrofitted on the tractor or from the factory, that will help maintain downforce at a uniform setting throughout the field, aiding in maintaining the target seed depth. It’s really important, if we want to achieve that proper depth, that we set a proper downforce,” he says.

From talking with producers, Porter found that downforce is a planting factor not usually considered.

“It is important to set the downforce on their planters to match their field conditions.”

Article by Clint Thompson, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.