Causes of Uneven Stands, Part 1

Submitted by John Toft
CCA, Tekamah, Nebraska

It’s important to examine the cause of uneven corn to avoid the situation in the future, if possible.  Some common reasons for uneven corn may be a result of: the planting trip; varying planting depths due to excessive planter speed over rough soil or residue; planting in soils that are too wet; shallow planting depth; excessive planting depth; failure to close the furrow; or worn planter parts.

To help provide “picket fence stands,” make planting and planter adjustments.  It’s important to match the planter speed to field conditions and to avoid planting seeds in extremely poor soil conditions.

Photo of root development on corn plant enduring sidewall compaction after being planted in wet soils.

Planting in soils that are too wet can lead to sidewall compaction.  This spring I saw where two sidewalls compacted, causing the plant to come out of the ground in two halves.  The under-developed root systems resulting from the compaction are often confined in a flat plane within the furrow trench.  Planting in too wet of soil, especially with coulters, allows sticky soil to build up on gauge wheels resulting in planting depth differences.

Shallow planting places seed in differing soil moisture levels and can potentially delay emergence dates.  Shallow planting also can lead to a shallow secondary root system.  “Rootless corn” may result, or plant development may be greatly delayed compared to neighboring plants.  Excessive planting depth, especially in challenging environment seasons, can result in uneven emergence, too.  However, I have far greater problems over the years with planting too shallow than I have with planting too deep. 

Failure to close the furrow is usually caused by poor soil conditions, improper closing wheels for field conditions, incorrect down pressure, or planting in sod.  Worn or improperly adjusted planter parts can cause or aggravate all the previously mentioned problems.

Although the 2011 planting season may be over and done, it’s important to monitor crop progress throughout the growing season and take notes.  Avoiding these same mistakes during next year’s planting season can help improve plant stands and lead to healthier, higher yielding plants.