Planter technology advancements – Dr. Brian Luck, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Posted on March 23, 2018 in Forage Foundations
By Dr. Brian Luck, University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor and extension specialist
Planter technology has advanced rapidly over the past five to 10 years.  These advancements have focused on proper seed placement and efficiency in the planting operation while providing new capabilities to the planter that were not previously available.  Thus, farmers can optimize their planting operation to hit the narrow windows of suitable weather and soil conditions to maintain the highest yield potential possible.  Let’s look at a few planter technologies that have direct impact on planting efficiency and a few considerations to take into account when upgrading your planter.

GPS planting
The availability of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and their prevalence on agricultural machinery has enabled a plethora of new tools in all aspects of agriculture.  Utilizing Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS provides sub-inch location accuracy, which allows farmers to very accurately position the machine within the field, utilizing automatic guidance of the machine.  Planter technologies that take advantage of this accurate positioning are row unit controls, including shut-offs, variable rate seeding, and multi-hybrid planting technology.

Hydraulic and electric row unit drives
Installing hydraulic or electric row unit drives allows the planter controller to start and stop dropping seed based on the location of the planter and the defined end rows across the field.  This is the most basic and easily justified planter technology modification due to the simple return-on-investment calculation.  Overplanting seed into end rows costs the farmer seed and is exaggerated when end rows are not square to the planting direction.  Additionally, the fact that the population in these overplanted areas is doubled reduces yield at harvest time.

Investing in hydraulic or electric drives for the planter also provides the capability to vary the seeding rate on-the-fly across the field.  Varying soil fertility, soil types, or soil water holding capacity can be used to delineate management zones within the field, defining the areas that could benefit from a higher or lower seeding rate to optimize yield.  These same management zones can be used to define areas where multi-hybrid planting technology can be useful.  This technology will typically be available on new planters or as an aftermarket addition.  Two separate seed hoppers are installed on the planter containing the different hybrids, and the controller changes the seed type based on the management zones previously defined.

If you are not comfortable with completing management zone delineation yourself, a crop consultant can generate the boundary maps and management zones needed by the control system on the machine.

High-speed planters
The latest planter technology to hit the market has been the high-speed planter.  These machines use either belts or brushes to take the seed from the metering unit to the drop location in the furrow.  The rearward velocity of the seed is matched to the forward speed of the planter to provide a dead drop in the furrow and minimize bouncing/rolling of the seed.

Recent research from the University of Tennessee and Oklahoma State University compared high-speed planters to traditional planters with increased widths.  They found little difference between increasing the speed of planting versus increasing the working width of the planter when considering field efficiency.

These results indicate that, when investing in a new planter, increased field efficiency can be obtained either by increasing planter speed or planter width.  The decision then comes down to your individual operation and the logistics of moving a larger planter from field to field during the busy planting season.  When planting at higher speeds (8 to 10 miles per hour or more), some consideration should be given to automatic guidance on the tractor in order to reduce operator fatigue and to eliminate skips and/or overlaps.

Regardless of the level of technology utilized in your planting operation, the goal should always be to place the seed at the optimum depth with sufficient moisture and access to nutrients to maximize yield potential within the field.  Addition of these technologies will aid in seed placement, and possibly increase yield potential or input savings, but there is no replacement for proper planter set-up and calibration.  Always assess the machine prior to planting, replace any worn parts that will affect performance, and regularly dig behind the planter to ensure seed placement and seeding rate is correct.

Category: Equipment
Forage Foundations
Technology and data management