Farmers’ Practices in Planting Corn Under No-Till Farming  
Ben G. Bareja, July 2014

3. Planting corn -  Seeds of a glyphosate-resistant variety of corn are sown at the onset of the rainy season, ideally after a heavy downpour or, at least, moderate rainfall. This is to ensure that the soil has sufficient moisture which is needed in seed germination. Regular rainfall in the coming days also favors vigorous growth in sloping lands. Likewise, it is important in the timely application of fertilizers.

In our farming community in Sarangani, the latest season for corn planting (locally called panuig) commenced last April. The first heavy rain occured on April 14, 2014 after several dry months. 

Seeds are sown after slash-and-burn and herbicide spray. This is the most preferred practice in planting corn. From long experience, the farmers know that thorough land preparation is important before sowing corn seeds to ensure maximum seedling emergence and vigor. Consequently in no-till farming, seed sowing is commonly done on land which is rendered weed-free or nearly weed-free by herbicide spraying. If the rainy season has commenced, this may occur a week or so after spraying. 

However, the exact time to plant may be delayed or otherwise advanced depending on certain possibilities. It may be that land preparation has been completed but the coming of rains may be delayed, seeds may not yet be available, or the farmer may have been preoccupied with some pressing matters or otherwise hindered to plant as scheduled. Conversely, the rainy season may have commenced ahead of expected schedule, or weed growth after burning is minimal, or farm labor to do the planting may not be available in the next days. Whatsoever, the farmer has several options.  

Planting Options

  a. Delayed planting - Even after thorough clearing and the weeds have been eliminated by herbicide application, planting may be delayed. The delay may be for several to many days. The weeds may have started regrowing in which case seed sowing is done even though the land is not entirely free of weed cover (as shown in the image below). Otherwise, a second spraying is done before planting.

Farmworkers planted corn side by side in stooping posture similar to that in transplanting rice seedlings.

          b. Advanced planting – Corn seeds are sown after burning immediately or soon after herbicide spray. Here the weeds have already regrown after burning. While herbicide is sprayed, somebody else do the sowing of seeds on the area already sprayed. Otherwise, seeds are sown a day or a few days after herbicide spray although the weeds are not yet completely killed.   

          c. Advanced planting – Corn seeds are sown several days after burning when the weeds have started regrowing but before herbicide is sprayed. However, weed growth should not be as thick as to cover completely the ground so as to hinder planting. This applies in areas where it is obvious that weed growth before burning is minimal.

          d. Advanced planting – Corn seeds are sown a day or a few days after burning before regrowth of weeds and before herbicide is sprayed. However, this option is only resorted to in areas with minimal weed growth prior to slashing and burning.  Otherwise, thick rootstocks will hamper holing (dibbling) and minimize seed germination. Seedling vigor will also be affected.  

Consistent with no-till farming, planting is done manually by dibbling.  Dibbling is a method of planting corn in which holes on the ground are made with a tool called "dibbler".  An earlier account of how it was done more than 40 years ago is here reproduced from another page (click here to read):

Replicated sampling revealed that farmers' practice of planting corn manually resulted to the average planting distance of 50 cm between adjacent rows and 33 cm between plants within the row.

Dibbling is an old method of planting practiced by subsistence farmers in marginal lands. It is a form of hill planting in which holes are first bored on the ground. Immediately, planting is done by dropping the seeds into the holes.

My late grandfather used to apply this technique on a portion of the farm in Sarangani. That part of the farm, now grown to coconut which are  regularly harvested for copra, has a very steep slope with shrubs, stumps of trees, and large limestone. Plowing by carabao was impossible so that the only way to prepare the land was by slash-and-burn or kaingin system.

Slashing and burning are done during summer when the grasses are dry, and corn is planted at the start of the rainy season. With a wooden dibbler locally called “panghasok” and "tagad", (a pointed, spear-like piece of stem) held by one hand, he strikes the ground to make holes about 2 inches ( 5 cm) deep and 1-2 steps apart. As the pointed tip of the dibbler is lifted, someone else immediately drops 3-4 seeds of an indigenous, open-pollinated corn into the hole. The hole is not refilled with soil, that part is done naturally by the cascading downward movement of surface soil and fragments of rock. Between harvesting and burning, the area is fallowed.

The above technique still survives in some locality with modification as to planting distance and number of plants per hill. Now the farmers in this other part of Sarangani (not the abovementioned farm) use bolo with a blunt tip. They have not heard of the hand jabber and even if they did, its availability and cost would be a factor in its acquisition. For now anyway, that bolo is all thay they need.

The planter bores a shallow hole on the ground with a downward thrust of the bolo, drops a seed into the hole, and steps over to close the hole. Every step means one hole and one planted corn seed per hole. In addition, the practice now is to sow, as much as possible, one seed per hill. 

In one instance where there were eight planters, they started planting corn side by side in stooping posture similar to that in transplanting rice seedlings. The land has a slight slope and they planted in contour lines (perpendicular to the slope of the land). Planting was completed in one day, equivalent to a labor requirement of 8 man-days.

These human planters do not use a planting guide nor any measuring tool in planting corn but when the plants are visible, they appear arranged in equidistant rows with regular plant-to-plant spacing.

Replicated sampling in one area revealed that such practice of planting corn manually resulted to the average planting distance of 50 cm between adjacent rows and 33 cm between plants within the row. At 1 plant per hill, this is equivalent to a ground area of 0.165 sq. cm per plant and population density of 60,606 plants per hectare.  

In comparison, a planting distance of 70 cm x 20 cm results to a ground area per plant of 0.140 sq. cm and population density of 71,428 plants per hectare. Further, a planting distance of 70 cm x 25 cm results to a ground area per plant of 0.175 sq. cm and population density of 57,142 plants in one hectare. A tabular comparison shown below reveals that the farmers’ practice is consistent with the planting distance of 70 cm between rows and 20-25 cm between hills which is  recommended for planting corn in furrows in row planting

Table 1-PC. Comparison of planting distances for corn.


Planting Distance                     Computed Ground Area         Computed Population Density                                                                               Per Plant                                        Per Hectare                             

 50 cm x 33 cm*                                0.165 sq m                                    60,606 plants

 70 cm x 20 cm                                  0.140 sq m                                    71,428 plants

 70 cm x 25 cm                                  0.175 sq m                                    57,142 plants


*Farmers’ practice in no-till corn farming.

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