Whether or not sprayers are at their limit, some manufacturers obviously believe that planting and seeding has great potential when it comes to adding speed to the operation. Typically, planting is accomplished at 5 or 5.5 mph. In the past year or so, Seed Hawk, John Deere and Horsch have begun rolling out equipment they say can effectively place seed at 9-10 mph.
A report in the May 22, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Planting Corn at Warp Speed Using High-Tech Tools,” was subtitled “A Faster Way to Sow Crops is Changing Farming.” A graphic accompanying the article was an attention getter, pointing out that, “At their fastest weekly pace three decades ago, growers seeded nearly 16 million acres of corn. Last year, they sowed 41 million in a single week.”
The article went on to speak to the urgency farmers feel to get their crop in the ground, but with the various precision farming systems and new implements, they’ve been able to speed up the process. The Illinois farmer who was interviewed for the piece concluded by saying it use to take him the better part of 2 weeks to seed the 2,000 acres the family farms prior to having the precision planting technology. “The goal used to be 10 days,” the farmer said. “Now we can plant all our corn in 5 days.”
This is the aim of the manufacturers that are developing new planters designed to nearly double the speed at which seeds can be planted. Of course, halving the time it takes to get the crop in the ground is big news, and referencing “high-tech” tools adds some sizzle.
What the article doesn’t address is the grunt work required to get the soil ready for planting, which most ag experts would agree is key to high yielding row crops. “The question that needs to be asked is this: ‘If you’re going to plant at 10 mph, do you have a 10 mph seedbed?’” says Tom Evans of Great Plains Mfg. The company makes both tillage tools and planting equipment.
That thought isn’t lost on Jasa. “If you watch any of the videos of the new high speed planters or see any of the literature, they’re working in a finely tilled, uniform seedbed that looks like a pool table,” he says.
Nelms of Seed Hawk, which is introducing a high speed planter to the North American market, says there’s little doubt that field conditions will dictate the speed of planting, regardless of the equipment. “You cannot go into a field that is extremely rough and try and plant at 8, 9 or 10 mph. It has to be level and fairly smooth to plant at those speeds.”
Evans explains, “When you’re growing corn, everything hinges around ear count. Ear count is very susceptible to poor emergence. Going 10 mph on a rough seedbed would definitely result in uneven emergence and lower ear count. There are some vertical tillage tools that can and some so-called vertical tillage tools that cannot provide a seedbed that would allow even 8 mph let alone 10,” says Evans.
There are tillage tools that can help create a perfectly smooth bottom at a 2 inch planting depth that will allow a planter to run much faster, according to Evans.
The company tested its Air-Pro meter with a 24 cell wheel running it in a twin-row configuration at a normal 5.5 mph. Reportedly, the unit placed 998 of 1,000 seeds in a plus or minus 5% space, which is approximately in an 1.25 inch area.
They then took a 40 cell wheel, which is their normal wheel for a single-row planter, and set it up to plant in a twin-row configuration. Planting speed was increased to 8.5 mph. The results showed the planter placed 998 seeds out of 1,000 in a plus or minus 15%, which is slightly over a 2 inch space, plus or minus.
“When the seeds are 11 inches apart, if you’re 1 inch one way or the other, you’re still not crowding the plant and you still have maximum ear count,” says Evans.
“The real secret to increasing productivity is not just a planter that can plant at 10 mph, but seedbed and conditions that will warrant 10 mph ground speed and still get you maximum yield,” Evans says.
“Even if we increase the speed from 5.5 to 8.5 mph, productivity is increased by 54%, which is a phenomenal increase. I know most American farmers would be impressed if they could get an increase of 50% with their planting equipment.”
But, he adds, it all gets back to a well prepared seedbed.