Improved precision is starting to show up more often on the planters, which is one of the most valuable places to invest in new technology.
“Grower margins have decreased significantly this past year. Profits made in the upcoming seasons need to be placed where they can expect the greatest return. The planter pass is the most important pass a grower makes in his field and it is important not to lack on the investment for this pass,” said Charlie Troxell, precision ag specialist for Precision Agri Service, Inc. “There is a systematic approach to this and one size does not fit all. Every farmer’s planter is set up a little differently and it doesn’t make it right or wrong. If they are happy with their planter then a lot of times there is no need to re-invent the wheel. But, with the technology available today, a grower can get much more detailed information on how their planter is performing, allowing them to make simple changes in-season to correct any problems that may occur. By the time you can see the crop, it’s too late.”
Planters are one of the specialties of Precision Agri Services, Inc., based in Minster. For years, the consulting company has worked on retrofitting planters with updated technology and Precision Agri Services is just starting to custom build new planters to meet specific needs. Even with lower crop prices, precision-based planter improvements can still be a very wise investment.
There are several fairly recent advances in planter technology that can be updated on older planters or included in a new planter that can make a big difference in that crucial planting pass.
Planter Down Force Management
Consistent seed depth is vitally important for consistent stand establishment in the field.
“Down force management is key to achieving the correct seed depth. Up until we started seeing automated down force systems, a grower would set his planter down force once a season and never change it,” Troxell said. “The entire planter may not need the same down force. Different rows may need different down force. Now with the tools available guys can make individual row-by-row down force management decisions based on the field conditions.”
With new technology, planters can have varying levels of down pressure control and precision.
“On an automatic air-adjusted system, we add a certain number of electronic load pins to the planter rows. Those load pins use a monitor in the cab that takes those load cell readings and automatically make adjustments planter wide to maintain that consistent seed depth. White, Deere and Kinze have unveiled automatic down force systems so the majority of the new planters on the market have these capabilities,” Troxell said. “The latest improvement with down force control is the DeltaForce down force management system from Precision Planting that basically converts your planter into individual one-row planters in terms of down force management. The system can put a maximum of 650 pounds of down force and 450 pounds of lift force on the row unit. It will add or take away the weight needed for more seeding depth uniformity on each row, which is becoming more important as planters continue to get bigger. DeltaForce is in its second full year of retail release. You add a row pin to every row of the planter. Compared to OEM down force management systems, that is one of the biggest improvements you can make.”
Planter Seed Spacing
Even with a consistent depth, erratically spaced seeds can really hamper yield potential in the field. Electric drives can make significant improvements in this area.
“The electric drive has eliminated error in a mechanically driven planter. Whether it is with chains, sprockets and other components, after so many acres those components wear and then lack in performance over time,” Troxell said. “The electric drive has also helped simplify a basic planter because you are able to eliminate a lot of those components and clean the planter up.”
Troxell said electric drives have been out for two or three seasons now and are offered by Precision Planting and Kinze.
“The electric drives are about the size of your fist and offer both variable rate capabilities and row shut off capabilities,” he said. “Electric drives eliminate some inconsistency in seed spacing and, if multi-hybrid planting is of interest, electric drives will be needed to power those dual-meter row units seeding systems. The electric drives eliminate the lag or skips in spacing.”
Planter Vacuum Meters
Planter meter seed singulation can affect final yield 2- to 2.5-bushels per point off of singulation, which can add up very quickly when planting with variable seed size. Vacuum meters can help address this challenge.
“Deere first offered vacuum meters several years ago, but there are still a lot of finger pickup planters out there. As the seed industry has gone to ‘refuge in a bag,’ that has been a challenge to the finger meter planters. Finger meter planters do a very adequate job of singulating seed when it is one seed size, but refuge in a bag can have two seed sizes and that causes trouble for finger pickup planters. There are tools that can be used to convert finger pickup planters to vacuum meters,” Troxell said. “As the vacuum meter has matured, they have been able to simplify the vacuum requirements based on seed size without affecting the singulation and performance of the meter. With vac meters, you get more consistent singulation regardless of seed size.”
Planters are being built to run faster and cover more acres in less time. With faster planting speed, the planter must be equipped with the proper technology to keep up.
“When you are talking about speed, there are multiple things to consider. You can have a fast planter but if the ground conditions are not right it won’t work,” Troxell said. “You’ll get inconsistency and you’ll need technology to keep that unit in the ground and response time will need to be faster.”
For example, a single pneumatic airbag system normally takes 90 feet at 5 miles per hour to fully adjust the airbags to the proper pressure. This can vary based on how much change in air pressure is needed when making a single pass in the field.
The weigh pins are able to take a reading 200 times a second. The problem is that airbags cannot adjust that fast. So Precision Planting created DeltaForce, which is a hydraulic adjusted down force system. This system can adjust plus or minus 125 pounds in one fifth of a second and plus or minus 500 pounds in a half second, allowing for a faster reaction and more consistent seeding depth as speed becomes a more important factor for planting.
In addition to all of the precision tools that rely upon GPS to work, there is also a wide range of tools that improve various aspects of planting.
“There are a number of planter components that can be added to planters based on the specific needs and wants for tillage practices, fertility needs, ease of handling, or residue management,” Troxell said. “There are tried and true tools out to help accomplish your goals. I think the most popular are the liquid fertilizer systems being added to existing planters because farmers are preparing for the rules and regulations with water quality that are coming. Air adjusted row cleaner systems are also popular as guys look at increasing conservation tillage. Closing wheels offer a more aggressive system to break up the sidewalls and increase seed to soil contact.
“When we look at precision ag as a whole, as seed costs, and fertilizer costs increase, there are tools farmers can access to put those dollars in the right place in the field. As prices are where they are at, you can’t afford to put dollars where you don’t need them.”