Image of Brutus Buckeye in cornfield puts multi-hybrid planting on center stage

Aug. 15, 2016
Image of Brutus Buckeye in cornfield puts multi-hybrid planting on center stage

Brutus Buckeye must love corn.

Since mid-June, The Ohio State University mascot has been seen (from the air) in a cornfield north of London, Ohio, and will remain there until harvest.

The image, made possible by prescription planting the field with two hybrids with different maturity dates, is a way to draw attention to Ohio State research of multi-hybrid planting technology, said Andrew Klopfenstein, project coordinator in Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

“It’s part of a larger-scale effort to inform farmers how far the technology has come, and how to utilize the technology to maximum potential,” Klopfenstein said.

“It can be difficult to get people’s attention when you start talking about field prescriptions without a good example.”

Multi-hybrid corn planting

The department is in its second year of research on multi-hybrid corn planting, and in its first on soybeans, he said. He and others will discuss the research at 12:30 p.m. each day at the Trotter Field Demonstrations at this year’s Farm Science Review, Sept. 20-22 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London.

The Review offers farmers and other visitors the opportunity to learn about the latest agricultural innovations from experts from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. The department is part of the college.

“Right now, there’s high interest in planting technologies,” Klopfenstein said. “As the costs of fertilizer, seed, fuel and other inputs increase and grain prices drop, the best way to gain a yield benefit is in the planting technology you use.”

Planting is the most critical operation of crop farming, Klopfenstein said.

“If you don’t start out with a good seedbed, or if you place the seed incorrectly, you’re already behind,” he said. “You could lose up to half of your yield potential by placing the seed incorrectly at planting.”

By using data on a field’s terrain, past yields, soil organic matter, remote-sensed imagery and soil productivity, farmers can use software available on today’s precision planters to plant the right hybrid at the right rate to maximize yields, he said.

“In one block we may plant hybrid A at a population of 28,000 seeds per acre, and in the next we might plant hybrid B at 36,000 per acre,” he said. “The planter can change the type and rate of seed being metered into the furrow, all depending on the seeding prescription uploaded to the controller to optimize the soil productivity at that location.”

This year, Klopfenstein and project team members are working with three farmers in and around central Ohio, as well as at the college’s Farm Science Review site north of London, to test multi-hybrid planting. In total, they have planted 326 acres of corn and 256 acres of soybean.

Remote sensing

“In those fields, we are looking at the technique of selecting corn hybrids and soybean varieties and trying to determine the best way of placing the seed in the field,” he said. “We have a test protocol that we’ve developed using Airscout remote sensing imagery and are working with Becks Hybrids to develop a procedure for placing seed in that specific field based on the data layers the farmer may have available.

“And then we have a prescription generated to look at ways of placing seed according to those data layers.”

At the end of the growing season, the team will analyze yield data to determine the costs and benefits for each method.

Some farmland would benefit more from such changes, Klopfenstein said.

“In central and southern Ohio, the soil can vary significantly in a matter of 50 feet,” he said. “You can go from a silt loam to a silty clay loam very quickly, and we’re trying different placements of seed types as well as different populations in different zones.

“But in northwest Ohio, you might have one single soil type in the entire field. In that case, it may be more advantageous to adopt high-speed planting technology versus multi-hybrid.”

High-speed planting can speed up planting by 40 to 60 percent, Klopfenstein said. That can be a vital advantage in years like 2016.

“Farmers who got their corn in during a planting window in early April had good temperatures along with good emergence and early season growth,” he said. “Corn that was planted later, around Mother’s Day, had to withstand a late frost and then a cold rain. This later-planted corn had poor emergence and stands.

“As hybrids continue to advance, it’s critical to get corn in the ground at the right time. That’s why planting capacity matters so much.”

Right investment

Researchers are examining both multi-hybrid and high-speed planting technologies to determine what’s best for what type of field, Klopfenstein said.

“We want to be certain that farmers are making the right investment for their operation whether it’s high-speed, variable-rate, multi-hybrid or some combination,” he said.  

The picture showing Brutus Buckeye’s smiling face in the cornfield was taken with a drone, or unmanned aerial system (UAS), Klopfenstein said. The research team is also examining how to use drones to identify hybrids, pests, disease issues and nitrogen deficiencies in a crop.

“We can use the imagery to determine the proper prescription for multi-hybrid planting,” he said. That, too, will be discussed at the Review.

In addition to the farmers involved in the project, partners include Precision Planting, Becks Hybrids, Case-New Holland, Airscout, Climate Corporation, 3-D Aerial and the Ohio-Indiana UAS Center.

The field demonstrations are included with admission to the Review, which is $7 in advance at county offices of Ohio State University Extension, many local agribusinesses and online at Tickets are $10 at the gate. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Attendees can also attend educational presentations presented by OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the outreach and research arms of the college, and browse among more than 600 exhibitors displaying more than 4,000 product lines. Free wagon shuttles from the west end of the Review’s main grounds take visitors to the field demonstrations, as well as to presentations at the nearby Gwynne Conservation Area.

Organizers expect total attendance to top 110,000. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 20-21 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22. Details are at


PHOTO: Brutus Buckeye smiles from a cornfield north of London, Ohio, thanks to a multi-hybrid planting technology. (CFAES photo)