Clearly, the next big push for speeding up farm field operations is emerging in the area of planting and seeding. But not everyone is sold on the idea of doubling up on the speed of planting — typically 4.5-5.5 mph.
“Planting is an intricate challenge because you have to singulate the seeds, that is plant one and only one,” Purdue’s Buckmaster notes. “You don’t want zero seeds and you don’t want two. If you’re planting at a normal field speed of about 5 mph, and planting a typical population of 30,000 seeds per acre in 30 inch rows, you’re putting seeds in the ground at a rate of 13 per second. That’s awfully fast to singulate for precise placement.
“If you want to go 50% faster, then you’ll be planting 20 seeds per second,” he adds. “I don’t think speed is the solution for improving planting productivity.”
“If you could run a 12 row planter twice as fast as you normally would, you could do the work of a 24 row planter without the massive inefficiencies …”
At least three manufacturers would probably argue this point as they announced plans to roll out new planter systems designed to push speeds to 10 mph or more. But Auburn Univ.’s Fulton doesn’t see 10 mph as a sustainable planting speed given changing field conditions will make it difficult to maintain accurate depth and spacing.
“I’m not sure 10 mph as an average is attainable, but I do think that we’ll nominally see the speed of planting increase to maybe 6.5 or 7 mph,” he says. “Talking to farmers, they are comfortable with that, but they don’t want to put themselves in a position of sacrificing efficiency for speed.
“In no-till conditions especially, terrain can be a limiting factor and farmers can’t bounce everything across the field.”
On the other hand, KSU’s Kastens is more hopeful about achieving increases in planter speed, but says smaller, faster planters are the answer, not faster and larger planters.
“Planters are the most likely area for improving speed,” he explains. “A smaller, faster planter can definitely make up for some of the efficiency losses (associated with larger equipment). If you could run a 12 row planter twice as fast as you normally would, you could do the work of a 24 row planter without the massive inefficiencies. You’d still have road-time inefficiencies, but a smaller planter can go down roads easier because it’s not as wide.
“I do think that planters in particular will definitely be able to go faster,” he adds, noting equipment manufacturers are already introducing such technology. “But as you increase speed, you lose accuracy, that’s what has hindered planters from going faster.”
The Peters brothers might argue that point. With a level surface void of large dirt clumps and potholes, Jon Peters tested Horsch’s 24 row Maestro planter this spring at a top speed of 9.6 mph, and averaged 8.1 mph, while maintaining a placement accuracy of 97-98%. Maintaining a speed of 8 mph with it, says Jon Peters, is entirely doable on a level field.
“A lot of our fields are pretty small, averaging maybe 40 acres. Our largest is 400 acres. We have a 120 foot planter. You go into a field and literally you turn around, come back and the field is done with that unit. But if you have any obstacles, electrical towers, power line poles, things like that, that 48 row planter is not nimble by any means, especially compared with this 60 foot planter,” explains Jon Peters. “We did about 2,000 acres in about 35 hours this spring with this planter [Maestro].” They averaged about 58 acres per hour.
Typically, the Peters have used a 24 row planter at 4.5-5 mph. Beyond this speed, they say, precision starts to degrade dramatically. But with the newer high speed equipment, they don’t see a drop off in precision placement of seed until they hit 10-11 mph. “Now, if you hit rocks or things like that, the depth control is not going to be there, just like any other planter. So you have some give and take of how fast you want to go vs. how good you want seed depth control. It doesn’t matter what size planter or how efficient it is in dropping the seed. If there are obstacles in the soil, it’s going to change your depth control,” says Jon Peters.
Slower is Better
Given his druthers as an agronomist, Saik says he would prefer farmers plant at 3.5-4.5 mph, especially for small grains and oil seed crops. “At those speeds is where we see a real reduction in the amount of bounce,” he says.
“I know it’s not uncommon for farmers to seed at 5.5 or 6 mph and wanting to push it even faster. We’ve got farmers who are talking 8 or 8.5 mph. At that rate we’ve got to have some evolution in the machinery before, as an agronomist, I’m convinced that you can cleanly get away with that. I think you’re sacrificing some agronomy as you edge up to 6-7 mph. You know today’s larger farming is very often the case that logistics trumps agronomics,” he says.
He believes farmers sacrifice “some yield” when they accelerate their planting operations. “We’re cognizant of the fact that farmers need to plant 6-8% of their crop per day. But we want to see a balance between proper fertility, seed treatment, density and population if we’re going to increase yields,” he says.
“The promise of the future is that the engineers will allow us to have both. We’re going to have the logistics and the speed and continue to improve the agronomics. Seed-to-soil contact, seed distribution inside of the row, reduction of skips and doubles, the ability to fertilize at a variable rate while traveling at speed and have it all done efficiently.”
Designed for Speed
While other manufacturers had introduced their high speed planting equipment earlier, it was John Deere’s announcement in February that created the firestorm of interest in planters capable of operating at nearly double the pace normally associated with row-crop seeding operations.
Both German equipment maker Horsch and Swedish manufacturer Väderstad, through its Canadian company Seed Hawk, have introduced and demonstrated their planting systems in real-life production applications in North America.
“I had a prototype in Kansas and Nebraska this spring and we planted corn anywhere from 5-12 mph effectively,” says Nelms of Seed Hawk. “And we’re doing it with precision. By that I mean seed spacing, desired population and placement.”
After announcing it in February, John Deere hasn’t offered a lot of additional information on its new ExactEmerge high speed planter. According to the company’s original press release, the Deere “row unit incorporates new technology that gives corn and soybean producers the ability to plant at speeds up to 10 mph while maintaining superior seed placement.”
Terry Peters of Peters Brothers Farms has a word of caution for manufacturers: The whole planter must be designed for speed. “You’re not going to take a machine that was designed to go 5 or 6 mph tops and tell me it will be able to go 10 mph. I break arms and snap parallel linkage arms and blow airbags at 6 mph, and you’re telling me now I can do 10?”
Jasa says, “When the equipment companies start building equipment strong enough to take that speed (9-10 mph), the price tag tends to scare off a lot of farmers. Also, at that speed, you’re going to throw a lot of mud and really tear up the soil. When it comes to versatility, I’m not sure speed is going to be sold across the board everywhere.”