Planter tech update ahead of planting

A conversation with…

John Fulton, with Ohio State University Extension and Bill Lehmkuhl of Precision Agri Services, Inc. about planter technology

OCJ: What parts are going to be an issue this spring for planting equipment?

Bill: The supply chain issues are there. You need to be aware and keep spare parts on the shelf for sure. Unfortunately, those who have waited to the last minute to drag their planter out and update technology planter wide, they’re going to have to wait until next year. Even the little stuff, the wear parts, they are going to need some iron in the shelf as a backup. We have seen some issues with things like seed disk openers. With all of our technology, we can easily defeat it all with a poorly maintained planter.

John: It seems like most everyone is ready to go. It has been an interesting winter with the supply chain challenges we’ve seen. Some people may not have gotten access to some of the newer technology. We may have had to revert back and assess the cards we had and go with that. In general, some last minute things to do are making sure all of your firmware is ready to go. Check on your differential correction for people using RTK or some of these correction services. Make sure you’re paid up and ready to go.

OCJ: What is the biggest value in planter technology?

John: I am always an advocate of having a high end display in the cab. We need to be monitoring that planter performance and if we have an issue we know about it instantly and we can address that issue whether it is on a meter or on a row unit or whatever. That is, without a doubt, the quickest payback. In terms of other technology we have been able to evaluate, we are looking at downforce in the state of Ohio. We are dealing with variable spring conditions. At times we are putting these planters in wet or marginal conditions at times. Things like downforce and monitoring that planter gives us feedback to make adjustments on the go and address if we are creating compaction or of if it is too wet and maybe prioritizing a different field. 

I think we have mostly overcome the meter question. Get high end meters or at least get meters that can singulate and can provide a more consistent population and avoid doubles and misses. Most guys have gotten themselves acclimated to the more modern technology to do that. If you haven’t, it is very important to get your finger pickups and some of those older model type meters in good working shape.  

Bill: The biggest bang for your buck is a good monitor on the planter to pick up those things you can easily correct that, if you wouldn’t catch it, it would cost you bushels and money. Maybe the No. 1 thing is controlling that downforce as you go through the field. It is a form of autonomy as you go through the field as the row units are reading those measurements and changing the downforce every fifth of a second. It makes a difference.

When we look at the big picture and look at the research on my farm, we used to want to see emergence with everything coming out of the ground within 24 to 48 hours. Then we started looking at it and decided it needed to be out of the ground evenly within 24 hours. Looking at our studies, I’m here to challenge that. If you don’t have everything out of the ground uniformly within 12 hours, it is costing you yield. Downforce is a key to that along with a proper closing system, that all leads to even emergence.

OCJ: Even emergence is partly a result of planting at the right depth. What needs to be considered there?

John: One thing I question a lot of times when we see issues is the depth and making sure we are set up properly. If I want to plant corn at an inch and three-quarters, I make sure I am accomplishing that. I have to check that depth and look for two things: one, are we seeding at the depth we want to? And then when we go back and see issues with uneven emergence we often see a lot of variability in depth. That variability is a key to showing us that we need to make adjustments and the technology can help us do that. And two, is our average depth where we thought we’d be when we put the seed in the ground?

Bill: I want to emphasize that, even with all of this technology, you need to get off the tractor seat and see what is going on behind that planter. You need to dig and see what is going on. We have a battery operated leaf blower out there to blow out 10 feet of trench to see what the closing wheel system is doing. Are we pinching? Are we creating a compaction zone with too much weight on the planter? Are we at the right depth? Just because your monitor tells you one thing, you need to make sure that is what is happening back there on the planter. 

OCJ: What are some important things to check before heading to the field to plant this spring?

Bill: We are now beyond the basics. It is beyond leveling the planter, and some of the nuts and bolts things that should be common sense. As you dive deeper into that row unit we see problems with some of the other wear parts you may not think about. As we look for more even emergence, if there is a quarter-inch difference in depth of a particular row it can make the difference. You need to dive deeper into those row units and take a closer look.

John: I’m assuming we have been through the planter we’re ready to go, we’ve replaced the wear parts and disk openers. Did you run a quick calibration test to make sure you are meeting population demand? Are your meters ready to go? Think about the depth you want early in the spring, mid- and late-season. How is the soil moisture? Make sure you are selecting a depth to meet the soil moisture. 

I am a big advocate of using apps to monitor. Are they all running and ready to go before going out there? Do I have the right closing wheels for the conditions? I know we all hate to get out and change those but there are so many options out there in the marketplace. I have seen so many times when we plant we chose the wrong setup on our closing wheels. 

And, when we are putting planters in the ground my mind is already on scouting. What am I going to do and what am I going to be looking for when I start scouting? And I need to be collecting the as planted maps, the downforce maps and everything. As we get into June and July and something comes up, having those maps available is great intel to get me to certain parts of the field to try and evaluate those circumstances.

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