Narrow Row Spacing: a Q&A with Expert Dave Henderson

Corn •  From The Field • 

At Geringhoff, we strive to meet the needs of feeding a growing world. This means staying swift with the innovations that make the jobs of farmers easier. Our Independence Line of corn heads was engineered to give farmers more configuration choices for harvest. I asked Dave Henderson of Henderson Farms in Story City, IA about narrow row harvesting and his specific experience and expertise.

Henderson Blog-743796-edited.jpgHow long have you been planting and harvesting in narrow rows?

Since 2000.

What led Henderson Farms to narrow row farming in the first place?

Simply put, we wanted to increase yields. We knew we had the soil for it - we raise a lot of hogs so our soil fertility is great. The only way to increase yields was to narrow out the row spacing. There are quite a few soil types in this region - soils that are highly erodible and soils that are black and fertile. The more variable the soil the bigger the bonus is for narrow row planting. The lighter the soil the bigger the benefits. 

What was that first season like?

Well, I built the corn head myself. (I've now built four corn heads - and today we're using one 16-row header and two 24-row headers) It was a challenge the first year. We had to overcome some issues when we went into the second year but that's natural when you try new things, and build new things to support it. I was stripping gear boxes down to get existing heads narrow enough, plus altering the gathering chains. It was just a lot of modifications and adding plastic parts until we had something that worked. Then away we went.

How many acres are you looking at each season?

corn harvest.jpgWe typically plant and harvest 7,000 acres of corn per year. We have three different 32-row planters - initially, we started out with a 48-row but that was too heavy, which was a problem. We scaled back to smaller ones. I'd like to get tracks for the planters, but I know that's cost prohibitive at this time. 

What population do you typically plant?

We plant 36-40,000. It depends on the field. We plot that out through the winter based on hybrids and what we want to plant population-wise, then we match it up to the specific field.

Do people pick your brain and use your expertise on narrow rows for their own information? 

It's funny - most of it hasn't caught on at least around here in Iowa. The biggest issue I hear is the corn head itself. People will say they can't find one locally. The other half of it is the cost of the planter. If you want a big planter - they're expensive and heavy. A lot of people ask me if I like the concept of narrow row spacing. I just answer them with, "well, I guess I've been doing it for 17 years - that should be self-explanatory."

Okay. In your opinion, what will it take for narrow row spacing to "catch on"?

I think Geringhoff is on the right path. Farmers have to be able to buy it. What I think is wrong with machinery today - and this isn't limited to corn heads but planters too - is that if you want to double your rows you need twice as much material. There is a large cost associated with making the change to field configurations. That's a hurdle I see for farmers. 

You ran the Freedom corn head - what did you think?

I liked it. I harvested about 500 acres with the Geringhoff Freedom. There were a few small issues - nothing major. It worked pretty good! I'd like to see row fences and header height adjustments, though. 

What can you attest to in terms of increase in yield since Henderson Farms went to narrow row configurations?

I can say to people it's about five - seven percent over what you were harvesting prior. Like I mentioned your soil fertility has to support it, which we're lucky to have. That won't be the case for every field.

2016 Is wrapped up - what was your season like?

A new record. It was the best year of corn I've ever combined. Mother Nature did most of the work, but she did manage to throw a big curveball at us when we went six weeks without rain. When it did start to rain though we caught back up without issue. The height of this year's crop wasn't as overwhelming as it was compared to last year, but I think that too had something to do with the weather pattern. 

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