Many farmers are using section controls on field sprayers because of product savings and the ability to avoid doubling up on chemical applications on the overlap areas where diagonal rows meet and at the end of fields.
Row crop planting equipment companies also are marketing planters with similar technology.
"This technology automatically turns off planter sections or individual rows on a planter in areas that already have been planted or at headlands and when passing over grassed waterways," says John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University agricultural machine systems specialist. "Planters without automatic section control either miss or double-plant areas at the ends of diagonal rows.
"Some controllers used with row-control planters allow users to install field boundaries and no-plant areas so the row units stop planting outside the boundary area. An automatic section control can be installed to control individual rows or sections of rows on planters."
The rising price of seed is one of the factors causing farmers to become interested in automatic row control. For example, corn seed costs $125 per acre or more.
"It may seem in our region that crop fields are all rectangular in shape; however, in reality, most fields include many point rows because of wetlands and potholes," Nowatzki says. "Another factor influencing the adoption of this technology is the increasing number of fields being divided for wind and oil energy development.
"A rectangular quarter section field divided into two triangular fields with a diagonal road can result in nearly 2 acres of overlap when planted with a 12-row planter. Planting around potholes means even more overlap. Using current seed costs, just 2 acres of overlap in a field increases the seed cost by $250."
An Auburn University study showed an average 4.3% savings using an automatic section controller on row-crop planters used on Alabama fields.
Some companies specializing in precision agriculture technology market add-on equipment to make it possible to do automatic row control with older planters. Row-control planters must be equipped with a controller using row-control software and clutches on each planter row. There are hydraulic, electronic and pneumatic clutches available for use on planters.
Other components needed vary depending on clutch type, including wiring harnesses and electronic control modules, plus air tanks and compressors. A Web search for row controllers on planters will give producers the names and contact information of companies marketing components or planters for row control.
"A few companies also are beginning to market section controllers for air seeders," Nowatzki says. "Air seeders normally are wider and plant seeds in narrower rows. This lowers the cost benefit of equipping air seeders with row controllers, so the industry is using section controllers instead."