With technology advancing all the time, it’s hard to resist the appeal of new equipment. However, there are many upgrades available that can be added to your existing planter to achieve speed and efficiency next planting season. When we talk about upgrades to your planter system, there are three main areas to look at.
Adding an electric drive seed meter can provide better seed spacing and singulation, as well as more precise control over your row units with the ability to easily shut off individual rows and perform variable rate seeding. The electric meter also provides turn compensation for the planter, with the ability to slow down the meter on the inside of the turn and speed up on the outside to maintain a consistent population.
Compared to a mechanical or hydraulic seed meter system, the electric drive systems are very simple to maintain with almost no moving parts to service.
Seed Delivery Systems
In addition to an electric seed meter, converting your planter to a high-speed setup must also include a high-speed seed delivery system that controls the delivery of the seed all the way to the bottom of the furrow. Rather than the meter releasing seed up higher at the top of a drop tube, these high-speed systems capture and carry the seed down to the furrow. These high-speed seed delivery systems are synchronized with the planter’s ground speed, allowing you to plant at higher speeds and still ensure good seed spacing and singulation. These systems can come with a high cost, but are necessary if you’re interested in planting at speeds of 8 miles per hour or more.
Row Unit Downforce Systems
The most common downforce systems for many years have used springs or pneumatic airbags to control row unit downforce. Springs are limited in their adjustability and take time to adjust. Pneumatic air bags are adjustable from the cab, either manually or in automatic mode, but are slow to respond to short changes in soil resistance across a field. Upgrading to a hydraulic downforce system provides a faster adjustment time, as well as the ability to control individual rows to adjust each one as needed. Hydraulic downforce systems can be especially useful in a high-speed planting setup, as they can quickly react to changes in the field as the planter is moving at 8 to 10 miles per hour. The hydraulic systems are also able to optimize downforce across a wider range of field conditions, as they have the ability to add and remove weight from the row unit. In the case of extremely soft soils, the hydraulic system can lift on the row unit to maintain the target downforce setting.
In 2015, Iowa State University’s Digital Ag team studied the yield impact of using a hydraulic downforce system compared to a pneumatic system. While using the hydraulic system didn’t provide any benefits to yield, the real advantage is ensuring consistency across varying conditions in the field. If you utilize no-till or farm in an area with highly variable soil conditions, you may want to consider adding a hydraulic downforce system to your planter.
The Complete High-Speed Setup
Even if you’re interested in adding all these upgrades to your planter, it doesn’t need to be done all in one year. Begin with the most necessary for the management decisions you want to make, as well as what you are able to budget for upgrades in a single season. Be sure that any upgrades you make now will be compatible with any you would like to make in the future, and the products you’re buying can support your future upgrade goals. If you’re considering converting your planter to a high-speed setup, an electric drive meter can be a good place to start.
A high-speed planter setup with all of these systems together can maintain a high level of performance, shown in this recent study by the Digital Ag team. While this added performance can drive a yield increase as discussed in an earlier blog post, the real benefit of a high-speed planter is capacity. The added time you gain from the ability to plant more acres in fewer hours allows you to get more seeds in the ground during the optimum planting window. This can mean the difference in getting the last 200 acres of corn in before it rains, or being able to park the tractor and spend more time with family at the end of the day.