The last two months we talked about common questions about precision ag. What is precision ag? How large does a farm need to be to use precision ag? Does precision ag pay? What should I do first to get started with Precision ag? In case you missed it, the short answers to those questions are as follows. Precision ag is using the tools we have available to manage each and every acre to reach its highest economic potential. No farm is too small to utilize some form of precision agriculture. It pays to invest in precision ag. Grid soil sampling and collecting yield data from a yield monitor are a great place to start. This month we are going to look at some technologies you can use on your planting operation.
Most of the precision ag Displays you could utilize to collect data can also be used as the interface to control your auto steer on your tractor pulling the planter. Auto steering systems come in two types. Assisted steering and integrated steering systems. Assisted steering systems mount to the side or underneath the steering wheel and they steer the vehicle for you by turning the steering wheel. The integrated steering systems tee into the hydraulics of your vehicle and steer the vehicle hydraulically. These tend to be a little more accurate and less intrusive to the cab than the assisted steering systems. An integrated steering system should keep the vehicle within an inch of the GPS directions and an assisted steering system tends to keep the vehicle one to three inches from the GPS directions. But the steering is only as accurate as the GPS signal that is guiding it. GPS varies in accuracy depending on the type of GPS correction you use. WAAS is six- to eight-inch pass-to-pass and RTK is one-inch repeatable. GPS.gov states that GPS guidance saves 7% to 10% of fertilizer and pesticides by not overlapping. Our customers tell us they typically experience a 2% to 4% reduction on a planting operation with RTK. With that kind of savings, it does not take long for a steering system to pay for itself.
Planter performance monitoring
Several Precision ag displays can turn your planter into a test stand. You no longer have to wait until the seed comes out of the ground to see what type of job you did planting. These displays will monitor population, skips, doubles and misplaced seeds. This can save you thousands by catching a problem during planting before you plant hundreds of acres with costly errors.
Automatically controlled individual row clutches
You can use the same GPS unit and Precision ag display to automatically shut off each individual row on your planter. Some planters are now coming equipped from the factory with clutches on each row. However, if that’s not the case with your planter, never fear, we can add our clutches to your existing planter. This technology pays off very quickly. The average savings our customers see with this technology is between 4% to 5% of their seed inputs. But that’s only part of the payback, there’s also the increase in yield on the 4% to 5% that is no longer double planted. The smaller and more odd-shaped the field, the more savings you will see.
Variable rate population
Our precision ag displays can also be used to control the variable rate drives on your corn planter, if equipped. We can also add variable rate drives to your existing planter if you do not have them. These drives allow us to place higher rates of seed corn in the high producing areas of the field and reduce the rates in the low yielding areas of the field. Our customers saw a four-bushel advantage in corn and a 1.5-bushel advantage in soybeans with VRA seeding. We now have the ability to switch hybrids on the go. This technology allows us to place a high-yielding offensive hybrid in the best ground and a defensive hybrid in the tougher ground.
Electric row unit drives
We can install electric motors on each row unit to drive your seed meter. These drives act as a clutch and a VRA controller but they do much more than that. One of the biggest problems we see with planters is noise in the drive train. This can come from a flat spot on a drive tire, a hard spot on a bearing, misaligned cogs on the hinge points or a frozen or tight link in one of the drive chains. All of these can cause the meter on the row unit to skip, jump, speed up or slow down causing misplaced seed. Electric row drives eliminate all of that driveline noise or inaccuracies. They also turn your VRA into HD by controlling the rate of each row individually.
Automatic hydraulic downforce control
Have you ever struggled with how to set your downforce springs on your planter? Some areas of the field require a lot of downforce to plant at the right depth while other areas require little or no downforce. Hydraulic downforce control systems can manage those situations for you automatically. We install a load pin on your depth control mechanism that allows us to measure the amount of downforce on your depth gauge wheels. We then can adjust our downforce on the row unit automatically to help us maintain constant depth while not over compacting the seed trench.
As you can tell there are many different technologies that you can add to your planter. To get the biggest bang for your buck we recommend using a combination of several or all of them. Visit your Precision ag dealer to see what technologies best fit your operation.