New planter technology could help no-tillers and strip-tillers speed up planting by 2-5 mph, but field conditions and attachment choices will determine the upper limit and level of success, experts say.
When planting season arrives, time is money — and it’s clearer than ever that no-tillers and strip-tillers are facing a tightening window to get their crops in before yield potential is lost.
Experts say the predictable, rain-fed cropping systems that Corn Belt farmers were used to have been replaced by unpredictable, soaking spring rainstorms that can make timely planting very difficult.
Paired with a trend toward larger farms, this high-stakes waiting game is fueling demand for bigger and faster planters that can help growers get more acres covered in a narrowed time frame.
New planter technology unveiled recently could help no-tillers and strip-tillers hike their planting speeds to 7-10 mph, nearly double the norm.
But is it a good idea?
Representatives from Kinze Mfg., John Deere, Precision Planting and Horsch touch on how growers might find success.
Data from Purdue University ag economist Ben Gramig shows that since 1980, there have been significant changes in mean weekly planting days for growers in the Corn Belt.
From 1980-1994, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri all had between 4.18-4.89 weekly planting days, according Gramig’s analysis of USDA data.
But from 1995-2010, Indiana dropped from having the most planting days (4.89) to the least at 3.72 days, and Iowa and Illinois also lost half a day. Kansas picked up half a day (4.23 vs. 4.89).
Oklahoma State University ag engineer Randy Taylor notes that in 1990, growers seeding 10-20 acres an hour was considered fast, but today seeding is often being pushed to 25-60 acres an hour.
“I was riding once with a guy pulling an 80-foot planter in a 50-acre field, and after that first pass around the field he had 25% of it planted,” he says, noting the field was done in 1.5 hours. “The efficiency of it wasn’t high, but his capacity was really high.”
Precision Planting engineer Kent Levy says there’s a problem with increasing planting speeds due to row unit ride, bounce and speeds at the ground level.
“As the seed comes out of the seed tube, it’s traveling horizontally rearward at about 3.5 mph,” he says. “When planting faster, the difference between the speed of the seed travelling out of the tube and the ground speed becomes greater. So when the seed hits the furrow, it has a tendency to bounce and roll because of the speed differential.”
Taylor has spent time researching the effects of faster planting speeds on the singulation, stand counts and emergence rates associated with various planters.
In 2009, he attached an accelerometer to a 4-row John Deere MaxEmerge planter, with row cleaners on two row units and two without them, to measure vibration on the toolbar as sunflowers were being planted in the Oklahoma panhandle.
Measurements were taken for ground speeds of 3-8 mph and Taylor found, not surprisingly, there was less vibration in the toolbar when row units had row cleaners attached — especially as speeds increased.
“If I give my gauge wheel a better place to run, which is what row cleaners are doing, it reduces vibration in the row units,” he says.
John Deere’s new ExactEmerge row units were released this year, and Taylor had a chance to do some testing with them on no-till and strip-tiller Matt Steinert’s farm near Covington, Okla.
Deere says the ExactEmerge row units allow farmers to plant accurately at speeds up to 10 mph.
Taylor brought his own Deere MaxEmerge 2 planter and placed accelerometers on it and Steinert’s 24-row, 60-foot Deere planter, which had pneumatic down force, to measure planting results at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 mph.
Corn populations were set to 17,000 and 32,000 seeds an acre for dryland and irrigated acres. The field was strip-tilled, and there were a total of 20 plots, with stand counts in four rows of each plot.
“If a 60-foot planter goes by you at 12 mph, that’s an impressive sight,” Taylor says. “At 12 mph and a 32,000 seeds-per-acre population, we’re dropping some seed — somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seeds a second coming out of those meters.”
About 1,200 acres into his planting day, Taylor says, Steinert called him and said he could plant at 10 mph in conventionally tilled and strip-tilled ground consistently with the ExactEmerge units, but not that fast in no-tilled fields.
Taylor walked the plots and did stand counts where the population was 17,000, but he eventually stopped looking for misplaced plants as the ExactEmerge units were working nearly perfectly, he recalls.
Where the fields were planted with a population of 32,000 seeds an acre, Taylor expected to see variable plant spacing at the higher speeds where the ExactEmerge row units ran — like he would often see with his MaxEmerge planter. But that wasn’t the case.
“From a spacing standpoint, those row units did as good a job planting at 12 mph as at 4 mph,” he says.
Phil Jennings, product manager for Kinze Mfg., warns that making high-speed planters work in no-till and strip-till requires careful consideration to every part of the planter.
That includes residue managers, closing wheels, coulters, down-pressure systems, depth control, horsepower requirements, row spacing and weight distribution, he says.
With no-till, there may be problems with heavy residue, rocks or changes in terrain, he says, where softer soils at the bottom of ridges allow faster planting but clay hilltops limit speed.
“It’s a lot like driving on the interstate during the winter and driving for the conditions you’re in,” Jennings says. “Just having one component of that machine capable of planting at higher speeds doesn’t mean it will work flawlessly for you.”
Higher planting speeds may have the most promise, initially, in strip-tilled fields because the seedbed is well prepared with softer, mellower soils, and the tops of berms are in good condition for gauge wheels to run, Jennings says.
Coulter selection at higher speeds is also critically important.
“If you watch row units with the wider fluted coulter, with 1-inch waves, at lower speeds they did a great job. But as we’ve boosted travel speeds, aggressive coulters can throw dirt outside the seed trench and affect seed-to-soil contact,” he says. “Think about a 13-wave, ¾-inch-or-higher wavy coulter with good soil activity at higher speeds, without too much disturbance.”
Most farmers interested in higher-speed planting want to get more acres done with the planter they have, so they might look at beefing up the capabilities of a 16-row unit vs. buying a 24-row machine, says Ken Hostetler, owner of Hostetler Precision Ag Solutions in Maquoketa, Iowa.
One challenge he notes for raising the speed limit at planting falls to growers who are applying liquid fertilizer, as there can be plumbing issues trying to move product through at nearly double the speed.
“It depends on volume, but you have to have the right size pump and right-size lines to get volume to put on,” he says. “If you’re wanting to do liquid fertilizer and high-speed planting, you need to have someone that knows what they’re doing.”
Going for It?
In the end, Taylor adds, seed placement is still the most critical variable farmers should think about — especially in no-till.
“Conventional tillage lets us cover up a lot of mistakes in planting. You can’t make those same mistakes in no-till,” he says. “There may be some limitations in wider planters and faster systems in no-till. If the row units are vibrating more, because I go faster, maybe I just use down force to compensate. But we’re starting to see the opposite, that increasing down force makes the row unit harder because the spring is stiffer.
“If I’m behind and under the gun, I’m not scared to go a little faster. I think I’ll get hurt worse by not being timely with planting than by what happens during planting at that time. Otherwise, it’s 5-6 mph for me.”
Jennings say farmers pushing the envelope on speed should build time into their schedule to perform field checks to see how the planter is performing, and decide how individual farms or weather conditions affect their upper limit.
“They can do trials and put together a marked area, planting one area at 5 mph, the next at 6 mph, then 6½, 7, 7½, etc. They’ll see where the limit is on their machine with the tillage practice and field conditions that season, and physically see and understand at what threshold they start to lose performance.
“To some old-school guys who are concerned as we discuss planting speed, please recognize the planters of today are capable of doing more,” he adds. “Don’t be afraid to try it, because there are efficiencies to gain. You may not go 8 mph tomorrow, but 6 mph or 6.5 mph isn’t something to be afraid of with today’s monitoring, metering and down-pressure technology.”
What Planter Makers Say About Going Fast
With yields so dependent on the narrow planting window determined by Mother Nature, the ability for farmers to better control their destiny, and calendar, is an exciting development.
Read on as representatives from Deere, Kinze, Horsch and Precision Planting discuss what they’re offering to growers in high-speed planting technologies.
• Kinze Mfg.
The 4900 series planter available from Kinze Mfg. can plant up to 8 mph, a 2.5 mph increase over Kinze’s traditional planter (3000 series), the company says.
“Our planters are built with a level of structural integrity and quality in mind to make them ideal for challenging conditions such as no-till or strip-till,” Jennings says.
A main feature of the 4900 series is a standard hydraulic weight-transfer system designed to reduce compaction with bulk seed and fertilizer carrying capacity.
Traditional planters tend to have most of the weight above the center section, which can create inconsistent depth placement with the planter wings. Pinch-row compaction can also be an issue if the center section sinks in.
Kinze says its hydraulic weight-transfer system means only about 2,250 pounds is the effective weight on the center section of the toolbar.
“With weight transfer, and with additional clearance of the toolbar and longer parallel arms, all of these things are forward-looking into speed and productivity questions, with strip-till and no-till applications,” Jennings says. “We are ready and able to go under those conditions.”
Fertilizer openers for 4900 planters allow adjustable down pressure and they can be locked in the “up” position without tools.
Jennings says the machine was designed with enough pump capacity to handle anything from low-rate, in-furrow to full-rate, off-row nitrogen applications at speeds of 7-8 mph.
Hydraulic weight transfer and row-unit down pressure requirements go hand-in-hand with faster planting speeds, he says.
“When we speed up, you need to increase down pressure to hold row units in the ground and keep them from bouncing,” Jennings says. “The weight transfer also helps put weight back out at the wing ends to maintain depth control.”
With a fresh view of high-speed challenges, Horsch, a newcomer in the North American planter market, has a relatively long history in Europe.
Horsch’s design philosophy considers ground speed as only one component of productivity, and Horsch engineers have integrated multiple efficiencies when designing a planter from the ground up.
As planter speeds rise, the potential for major component failures increase exponentially, the company says, so bulk has been added to compensate. The Maestro’s row unit weighs over 550 pounds, which is necessary because increased ground speed changes the force applied to the planter, the company says.
The row units can apply 770 pounds of down pressure each if needed, averaged over the machine. With hydraulic weight transfer and active wing system transferring weight, farmers can keep the row unit in the ground, where maybe typical planters with spring-type down force or airbags can have a hard time.
To add more rigidity, the Horsch row unit parallel arms are made with two laser-cut tubes that interlock with each other in the front and rear. The mainframe is a half-inch tube; hinged portions, or flex points on the toolbar itself, are reinforced with 1¼-inch steel.
This is important because in faster planting speeds the hinge point is an area that experiences additional stress, the company says.
Horsch’s product manager, Jeremy Hughes, says the Maestro is a very strong planter at 5 mph in no-till, and it could go 6-7 mph or more if a farmer has good field conditions and a good row-cleaner system to provide a smooth path for row units.
“What I’ve seen is that people — even with heavy air seeders we build that can push the envelope at 10 mph — is that 7.5 mph is where they are most comfortable,” Hughes says.
Horsch also believes there are other ways to improve productivity than just boosting the planter’s ground speed. The planter’s beefy profile allowed engineers to, with the 24-row planter, allow for 1,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer on board and 140 bushels of seed. The 40-foot toolbars have 83 bushels of seed and 770 gallons of liquid fertilizer capacity.
On average, Horsch says, farmers will spend 37% less time filling up than competitors. To plant the same number of acres in the time saved, competitors would have to drive 1.5 mph faster throughout an entire 24-hour period strictly due to capacities.
Hughes provided this real world scenario to be considered.
“Take a Maestro 2430 planter with a liquid capacity of 1,000 gallons, and seed capacity of 160 units. Let’s figure a 34,000-seeds-per-acre population rate and 5 gallons per acre starter fertilizer, at an average speed of 7.5 mph,” Hughes says.
“For easy math, let’s consider a 24-hour shift. With 30-minute fill times, in that 24 hours you will spend a total of 2 hours filling the Maestro. Take a competitive planter, however, with only a factory standard of 400 gallons liquid capacity and 120 units of seed — you will be stopped to fill for 6 hours in that same timeframe.”
At 7.5 mph seeding, on average, farmers would be covering 45 acres per hour with the Maestro, he says.
“Big numbers in down time and acres are lost in a 24-hour period, simply due to carrying capacities of one planter vs. the other,” Hughes says.
• Precision Planting
Precision Planting, which makes components to upgrade multiple planter brands, has also introduced new seed-delivery technology designed to push planter speeds higher — even in no-till conditions, the company says.
Precision Planting’s vSet meter has been coupled with its vDrive to create the SpeedTube high-speed planting device.
“The seed comes around a disc and is placed on a flighted belt,” Levy says. “The belt takes the seeds down to the bottom of the row unit while maintaining spacing. As they come around to the bottom, the seeds are placed into the ground.
“The system matches ground speed with the speed of the seed coming out, thereby eliminating bounce and roll, because the two are traveling at the same rate. By controlling the seed all the way from the meter to the furrow, the problems of high-speed planting have been eliminated.”
After running the SpeedTube system in corn and soybean fields throughout the South and Midwest, in a variety of conditions, Precision Planting’s engineers found going 10 mph is attainable, but most growers are choosing the 7.5-8 mph range, says Precision Planting engineer Ian Radtke.
“We ran it in every condition we could think of, even in raised beds,” Radtke says. “There’s nothing about the SpeedTube system that is fundamentally different with no-till vs. conventional tillage. But you must pay attention to the guidance system and auto-steer capability. We’ve had people who struggled, but we found they needed to make some adjustments or change responsiveness of auto-steer to stay on strip at higher speeds.”
Radtke says the company’s DeltaForce individual row down-force control is recommended to help growers planting at higher speeds “hit the nail on the head on every row unit” in variable field conditions seen in no-till and strip-till.
“For example, in strip-till if you have a high-speed, high-resolution down-force system and get off your strips, you’re going to have some challenges in the seed environment, but you might be able to keep the row unit in the ground,” Radtke says.
Applying liquid fertilizer at planting at these speeds is a challenge the company is addressing, Radtke adds.
“If you’re using an orifice plate to try to hit a rate at a given pressure, there’s a limited range of speed that you can cover with that,” he says.
“Don’t assume that because you want to put down 5 gallons an acre at 5 mph that you have enough pump capacity to do the same rate at higher speeds. In the future, we hope to have some solutions for that.”
• John Deere
Deere’s new ExactEmerge planter uses a high-performance meter to singulate seeds before they’re sent to a new trench delivery system.
To get the increased seeds per second, the company came up with a design where the seed puddle is in both the meter and a bowl.
The seed is pulled downward from the vacuum by gravity and, after it’s singulated, is handed off to the trench delivery system.
There, the BrushBelt comes around a pulley, the bristles spread apart and the seed gets handed off. No extra mechanical help is needed, it is able to swipe it with the cross feed action of the bowl. Then, as the bristles come back together, it firmly pinches the seed on all four sides for delivery to the trench.
Deere engineers acknowledge that at higher speeds, row units are going to experience more dynamics, but they need to follow the profile of the ground. When the BrushBelt system is moving up and down, the seed-to-seed relationship is maintained, the company says.
“We try to maintain that perfect spacing as close to the bottom of the trench as possible, which is 2 inches above the bottom of the trench,” says Deere Product Manager Jacob Swanson.
Deere’s system utilizes two electric drive motors, one for the meter and one for the BrushBelt delivery system, which is driven essentially by radar. If the ground speed is 5 mph, the seeds will be moving rearward at 5 mph. If travel speed is increased to 10 mph, correspondingly, movement of the seed changes to 10 mph.
Swanson says the ExactEmerge planters, properly adjusted for individual field conditions, should have no problem running up to 10 mph in no-till conditions.
He notes farmers can’t buy ExactEmerge units without an active downforce system — pneumatic down force or individual row down force through the company’s agreement with Dawn Equipment — to ensure there is enough ground contact at higher speeds.
“From a no-till perspective, the only thing I would say from personal experience is that we did run the row cleaners slightly more aggressively to make a proper seedbed,” Swanson says. “But going 10 mph in no-till debris was no problem.”
(By John Dobberstein, source – http://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/5111-how-fast-can-you-really-no-till#sthash.9IhZtLdM.dpuf)