Technology advances for seeders and planters will be born out of a combination of global needs to increase yields.
Regardless of where you are in the world, the main focus of all farmers is to increase their yield and get more out of every acre or hectare. What’s different is how that goal is accomplished in different areas of the world. There are a number of global planter and seeder technology trends dealers should keep an eye on that will make their way to North America.
Monosem’s 6 Row Rigid planter with no-till linkage and dry fertilizer is an all around planter that is designed for small, diversified operations that are planting a variety of row crops, says Tim Brown. Photo courtesy of Monosem
Looking ahead, technological advancements in planting equipment will come from marrying the needs and developments abroad with those of North America. The combination of Western European speed and North American accuracy would result in highly efficient and precise seeding and planting equipment.
Because of the differences in weather and soil conditions and even in local regulations, the advancements in seeder and planter technology globally can have a difference in focus. For instance, in Western Europe, due to restrictions on transport width, to get more done in the field bigger equipment isn’t necessarily better. “In the U.S. there has probably been less pressure to make machines with more speed because you can easily compensate by increasing the working width. You don’t need to fold to 3 meters like in Europe. To become faster, you need to compensate with speed in Europe,” says Traugott Horsch, managing director for Horsch, a farm equipment manufacturer based in Germany.
So the massive planters — 60-100 feet — aren’t an option for European farmers. You can, however, get faster and Tom Evans, vice president of sales at Great Plains, says that’s exactly what they are focused on in Western Europe.
A Need for Speed
• Evolving technology and increased electronics on seeding and planting equipment will require more training for both dealers and farmers.
• With technology changing quickly, farmers are trading in planters after only a couple years. Create a plan to handle this change in used equipment inventory.
• Ask your customers about their overall need. It’s possible two smaller planters or seeders might be a better option than a single large planter.
Horsch says that in Europe, seeding equipment for wheat typically be in the 20-foot range and operate at speeds up to 12-13 miles per hour. “A 1,000-2,000 acre farm in the U.S. would need equipment in the 40-foot range for similar results,” he says.
Many of the newer planter manufacturers in the European market are trying to increase the speed at which the equipment can operate, according to Brian Sieker, territory manager for Monosem. “They’ve got a couple of things working against them over there for growing planter width. When we have European farmers stop by at a show here in North America and see a 40- or 60-foot planter, they wish they could do that over there; it’s too wide to go down their roads. Width restriction is the biggest hurdle for them in going larger. So the only way to get more done in a day is to increase speed,” he says.
“If we can practically prove that it is possible to plant at higher speeds without hurting precision, it is a no brainer this trend will take off and it’s just a matter of time…”
— Traugott Horsch
“They just want to run fast. They’re talking about trying to plant corn at 10 miles per hour. In general, North America is pretty much fanatical on seed placement,” says Evans. “We understand that if we’re going to maximize yield, we have to have perfect depth control, seed to soil contact and uniform spacing, especially in corn. Europe is less focused on seeding accuracy and more focused on speed and how fast can we run. In my estimation, that’s pretty dangerous because when you start running a planter 10 miles per hour and the row units are bouncing around, then your seeding accuracy is really going to suffer.”
That said, the emphasis on speed is starting to show up in North America as well, but it will be a gradual change. Part of the reason for this is because the customer base for those 90- or 120-foot planters is pretty limited, according to Evans. The producers buying these implements have thousands of acres and are not the type of customer to buy used. There’s no second buyer because of the horsepower required to pull a planter of that size.
Labor Drives Planter Size
When it comes to what size seeding or planting equipment a grower buys, labor is a major contributing factor. While it ultimately depends on the individual farmer and his unique situation, Brian Sieker, territory manager for Monosem, says, “If they’ve got tractors and the manpower to run two planters, a lot of them will run two. If they don’t have the help or the tractors, a lot of them prefer to run one larger planter.”
In Mexico and Latin America, Sieker says its commonplace that a large grower might have 10-12 planters. Much like Western Europe, they have width restrictions for road transport. “The majority of their tractors are smaller and labor is not scarce, they’ve got plenty of labor. Instead of having one or two large planters a big farmer there might have 10 small ones,” he says. “You add it all up and their total investment is close to the investment of someone who bought a 24 twin-row, but spread out a lot more.”
Sieker says this approach saves on downtime. He offers this example: If a farmer in North America with a 40-foot planter has an issue with his planter, planting is stopped completely. In Mexico and Latin America, if one planter is down they are able to continue planting.
“Labor is the big driving issue with the size of planters. There’s a lot of guys with large planters that wish they had four 8-rows out there running instead of one 24 because the tractor is more expensive for that larger planter and because of the downtime. If something happens, they’re down,” Sieker says.
“Those people are never going to buy used because they’ve got to get over the ground and they’ve got to have reliability. So they’re buying them new and they’re not going to go buy one of those great big planters used because of the potential problems,” he says, “Then there isn’t a buyer because they can’t pull them or they can’t justify that big of a planter in their fields.”
For many of these farmers, it could be more economical to buy two 40-foot planters vs. one 90-foot planter that has poor resale value. However, those two smaller planters will need to run faster, “I need to get more acres, so how do I plant faster than I plant today?” Evans explains.
The biggest challenge with increased speed is maintaining accuracy with seed placement. “Speed does come at a cost and that’s your accuracy. There’s a balance in there that you’ve really got to watch and control,” Sieker says.
“We’re trying to take the bounce out of the row unit. Most people have to slow down to keep bouncing to a minimum. Taking the bounce out actually allows our growers to drive faster based on their field conditions,” Sieker explains. “A lot of our growers are very demanding; they want to cover many acres a day, and cover it accurately. They want to put their seeds in the right place at the right population. We’re working on things, improving our systems to allow that to happen, too.”
Evans explains that as speed progresses, seedbed quality will have to progress along with it. If it doesn’t, we will go backwards on yield, he says. “We can’t just have speed without also having concern over seedbed. If we drag a row unit 8 or 9 miles per hour — if we can drag it across a field that fast — it might do a pretty darn good job of singulating seed, but if it’s bouncing up and down, then we’re going to have some seed 2 inches deep and others half an inch deep. The spacing is going to be terrible and we’re obviously going to take our ear count down,” he says.
Kevin Larson uses a 45-foot Cross Slot toolbar to seed into corn stubble in Willow City, N.D. Photo courtesy of Baker No-Tillage Ltd.
Precise seed placement along with speed can be achieved by redesigning the seed meter, something a number of manufacturers are working toward, Horsch says. “It’s our feeling that everyone is working on it, but maybe in a different way. We will see other companies in the next 5 years or so go to similar planters, but you need to redesign the meter system. Going faster drops the precision of the seeding considerably,” he says. “If we can practically prove that it is possible to plant at higher speed without hurting precision it is a no brainer this trend will take off and it’s just a matter of time before it does.”
Changing Drive Systems
Manufacturers and dealers alike also note a move toward electric drive systems. Lars Thylén, product development and marketing specialist with Väderstad, an equipment manufacturer based in Sweden that has partnered with Seed Hawk in the U.S., says while farmers seem to prefer the mechanical drive system to an electronic drive, there are advantages to an electric drive system.
Switching Hybrids on the Go
The industry’s first, patent pending, multi-hybrid planter control system was recently unveiled by Raven Industries. This new multi-hybrid system is an enhancement to its OmniRow advanced planter control solution. When combined with variable rate seeding, it is designed to increase yield potential and profitability.
Raven introduced the technology at its 11th annual Innovation Summit, in Sioux Falls, S.D., in June. The company developed the system in conjunction with South Dakota State Univ. The technology allows growers to automatically switch between different hybrids on the go, based on a variable-rate prescription planting map.
“Variability across a field can vary greatly, in terms of fertility, in terms of multiple conditions and rarely is a one-hybrid solution the ultimate answer,” says Matt Burkhart, vice president of Raven’s Applied Technology division. “Now, farmers have a choice to switch on the fly between different hybrids across the field.”
Features of the new system include optimization for interplant and twin-row planter configurations, automatic shifting of tractor or implement guidance line to keep rows in line and integrated liquid and granular product control for each hybrid.
“Variable-rate on corn is part way there, and we feel to variable-rate hybrids and population is that next step,” says Doug Prairie, product manager for planting and seeding systems with Raven. “Based on what is available for hardware, we feel the twin-row and interplant toolbar configurations that are in customers’ hands today is where we’ll focus our efforts. Farmers can assign one hybrid to the primary row and a second to the secondary row unit and manually switch on the fly, but it can also be driven off of the prescription planting map.”
Prairie says the goal is to make the system commercially available soon and the company will explore additional planter configurations to partner with the dual-hyrbid technology.
With electric drive, row clutches are not needed since electrical motors — one on each seed meter — can be controlled independently, Thylén says. In addition, since the seed meters are driven independently, you can easily calibrate row by row. “Compared with mechanical you can easily adjust the seed rate on the go,” he says.
Another advantage is the electric drive system eliminates the chains in the driveline that often have a negative effect on planting quality, Thylén says.
The electric drive could potentially remove a lot of the complexity associated with either a hydraulic or mechanical drive system, says Todd Kunau, a Case IH and Great Plains dealer in Iowa. “The idea of eliminating all that complexity and having electric motors — just having a wire going to the row unit — is pretty intriguing. Again, that comes from European technology. It’s not a North American born idea. It makes sense just from a simplicity stand point. Then that would eliminate the row clutches and such,” he says.
“However, it is quite possible that the current complexities could merely be replaced with problems on a grander, more complex scale with the addition of electrics into an already busy and sometimes tenuous electronic environment of the modern planter.”
While there are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered regarding electric drive systems, Kunau says the technology is adaptable to North America. “It’s not real common place anywhere yet, but it would be easily adaptable,” he says. “We’ll see it in the next few years.”
One question is how an electric drive will affect other technology already on the planter, Kunau says. “I’m curious what that means having electrics like that on the planter in addition to those already standard on the equipment. How is that going to effect technology that is already on the planter — sensors or guidance, GPS connectivity? It’s kind of a wild card right now on how it affects all those other systems that already exist on the equipment,” he says.
With more and more electronics on seeders and planters today, the equipment is becoming more complicated to operate and properly educating the customer — as well as the dealership staff — on the new technology will be a big task, Thylén says.
“Part of the biggest challenge is the education of sales people, education of service techs and education for the farmer. More and more machines today have an electronic control system that can improve the way you operate the machine,” Thylén says. “It’s also more complicated. You just can’t jump into the tractor today and drive off like it was maybe 20 or 40 years ago. Today, you really need to know the electronics to be able to operate a tractor in a proper way. So that is a big change, and it can’t be over emphasized how important education will be in the next 10 years.”
ISOBUS Gains Traction
No-till Equipment Around the World
Over the last 20 years or so, no-tillage practices have varied and changed around the world, according to Dr. John Baker, CEO and chairman of Baker No-Tillage Ltd. With changing practices, the equipment needs must change as well.
Baker says North America and Australia have moved away from true no-tillage and for the last 20 years have been practicing minimum tillage. “The only thing that has changed is that this minimum tillage is now being done with aggressive seeding openers instead of separate tillage tools,” he says.
In Europe, the situation is different, he says, and most countries are still predominantly practicing minimum tillage using separate tillage tools. “They use conventional seeding machines to seed into friable semi-disturbed seedbeds that vary only in depth from fully tilled seed beds,” he says.
“South America and New Zealand, by contrast, have persisted with low-disturbance disc no-tillage openers and in that respect have been closer to achieving true no-tillage than North America, Australia or Europe,” Baker says. “The designs of disc openers that predominate in South America though, are old technology that succeed only because most South American soils are light and friable and yield expectations are limited. The same openers that succeed in South America had already failed in the heavier soil types in Europe and even North America.”
New Zealand has taken a different approach and has designed low disturbance disc no-tillage openers that work in all soil types and residue conditions. “The answer to creating true low-disturbance no-tillage, has always been to design disc openers capable of retaining the low-disturbance and residue-handling attributes of all disc openers without their downsides such as hair pinning and poor seed placement, while simultaneously gaining the attributes of tined openers such as penetration, seed placement and double-shooting of fertilizer,” Baker says.
“Such openers do exist and have the capability of once again focusing farmers on improving soil biology and health by minimum soil disturbance and maximum retention of surface residues,” he says.
However, most planters around the world use a double disc opener, according to Baker. “What I find puzzling is no planter manufacturer seems to have taken a blind bit of notice of the strong international research data that show that double disc openers are a biologically poor way of implanting corn (or any other) seeds into no-tilled soils.”
Baker says the New Zealand equipment is mainly being marketed through product specialists who are commissioned agents who already own one of the machines. “Dealers will have to be smart to match the economics of such a marketing model, but it is possible,” he says.
Baker offers this advice to dealers: Increasingly seek out those who are born with soil genes rather than power genes, to quote Jim Kinsella, who is often regarded as the father of no-tillage in the U.S. Many farmers have delayed changing to true no-tillage until they could find a fail-safe system. These are the innovators and thinkers who dealers should be working with to create their information network.”
A number of technology advancements are being driven by ISOBUS compatibility too, according to Tim Brown with Monosem. While it’s a driving factor, ISOBUS development is moving slowly. “ISOBUS is going to have a broad impact. Initially it’s going to take development time to work the bugs out. In 5-6 years, maybe less, I would expect a functioning app ecosystem,” he says.
While Europe is farther along in the ISOBUS movement, Brown says at the moment it doesn’t have a huge lead. “But the longer we’re not comparable, that lead is going to change,” he says. “Like with the iPhone and other technology-related products, if you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind fast.”
Sieker points out that the majority of seeder and planter manufacturers in Europe are not tractor manufacturers. “In North America, you’ve got 3 companies that build planters and have tractor lines. Then you’ve got 3 or 4 other manufacturers like us that don’t have a tractor line. Between us and the technology developers, we need to match up with those tractor lines,” he says. “We’re really pushing for ISOBUS compatibility, the same as they are in Europe because the European companies building the tractors aren’t necessarily the ones building the planting equipment.”
Brown says the European market has a wider and more competitive product range — fewer operations with “all green” or “all red” equipment — allowing the ISOBUS system to be well supported.
“That’s one thing the North American grower is frustrated with is the speed in which the companies can pull back the curtain a little bit. They all have — at some level — committed to the ISO 11783 standard that’s been agreed to,” says Kunau. “We’ve got common plugs on the back of the tractors we’re selling and we’ve got the commitment that you’re going to be able to plug in a green planter into a red tractor and it comes up on the monitor screen. That’s the goal, but there’s enough proprietary information that does not always play nice with each other, which is a problem.”
As technology continues to evolve, it’s going to become more and more necessary for growers to update their equipment more often, according to Evans. “Basically, this is a very cutthroat business and it all comes down to minimizing your input costs and maximizing your output. It’s very easy to justify a lot of this technology because it will improve yields or reduce costs or both,” he says.
“That will cause somebody to trade a planter in 2 years instead of keeping it for 10 years just because I can incorporate this technology to make me more efficient.”