You can give yourself a nice bonus at planting time just by slowing down the planter, says Ron Jensen of Ridgeway, IA.

You'll bring in up to $500 an hour, or more, he says, for a few extra hours in the field.

Here's how he figures it:

"When you slow down, you increase seed placement accuracy. And this tiny improvement in plant spacing has a dramatic effect on plant growth and yield when it's spread across hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans."

Jensen says you should run at 4.5 mph or less.

"At 4.5 mph, in 30" corn rows with a plant population of 32,000, you'll drop a seed every 6.5"," he explains. "That's ideal. Better spacing can improve your yields by 3 to 13 bu/acre. On 600 acres of corn, figuring a 3-bu/acre yield increase, you're adding 1,800 more bushels to the bin. At $2.25 corn, that's an additional $4,050."

Jensen says it will take eight more hours to plant that 600 acres because you slowed from 5.5 mph to 4.5 mph.

"The math is simple," he adds. "Divide $4,050 by eight hours and you're giving yourself a bonus of $506 an hour for that extra time in the field."

Jensen's planting math comes from years of experience, and it's also backed by research.

As owner and manager of AgriLand, Inc., he distributes fertilizer and crop chemicals, does custom application, and buys and sells grain from local Winneshiek County producers. In an average year, he personally checks more than 400 corn and soybean fields.

In addition, he plants 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans on rented land and custom plants another 700 acres of soybeans for area growers.

"In a nutshell, in many instances, research shows planter speed has made a yield difference," says Mark Hanna, extension ag engineer at Iowa State University. "But maintenance is also very critical. A planter that has wear on key components will deliver less accurate spacing, and the faster you go the worse it gets."

He emphasizes the importance of keeping the planter well-maintained and paying close attention to wear on the metering mechanism.

"If you're not paying attention, it can rear up and bite you," he says. "At 5 mph you're covering 7.5' per second. You're asking a lot out of the seed mechanism at that speed."

Hanna suggests dismantling a couple of row units during the off-season to check the major wear points and components of the metering device.

"You need to visually inspect them," he states. "One acre of use on one person's farm is not the same as an acre of use on another's."

He also advises checking the planter operator's manual to find out the maximum speed for your row spacings, plant populations and seed types.

Going to narrow rows is another bonus, adds Hanna.

"As you narrow the rows, your planter doesn't have to drop as many seeds as fast. Say you go from 38" to 30", or even down to 20" rows, the narrower the rows the fewer seeds are dropping through each row unit for the same plant population. That improves spacing and also helps reduce wear."