High-End Monitors, Downforce Offer Best Value Among No-Till Planter Technologies

By Ohio’s Country Journal editors

While the latest planter technology can keep a no-tiller from losing bushels and dollars, it also pays to do a low-tech check of your high-tech equipment before heading to the field.

With these concerns in mind, precision technology experts John Fulton and Bill Lehmkuhl share their thoughts on the most critical planter technology ideas that relate to no-till planters. Fulton is an ag engineer with the Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Service and Bill Lehmkuhl is the owner of Precision Agri Services in Minster, Ohio.

What is the biggest value today in planter technology?

Fulton: I am an advocate of having a high-end display monitor in the tractor cab. We need to be monitoring planter performance and if we have an issue, we know about it instantly and can address that issue whether it is on a meter, a row unit or whatever. Without a doubt, investing in a precision monitor offers the quickest payback.

In terms of other precision technology, we are looking at planter downforce when dealing with variable spring conditions when we are putting these planters in wet or marginal conditions at times.

Things like planter downforce and monitoring gives us valuable feedback to make adjustments on the go and determine if we are creating compaction, if it is too wet, maybe moving a different field.

It also pays to invest in high end meters or at least get meters that can singulate seed, provide a more consistent population and avoid doubles and misses.

Most growers have gotten themselves acclimatized to the more modern planter technology. If you haven’t, it is important to get your finger pickups and older model type gauges in good working shape.

Lehmkuhl: The biggest bang for your buck comes from investing in a good monitor on the planter to pick up concerns you can easily correct to avoid costly losses. Another important item is controlling planter downforce. This form of autonomy makes a big difference as the row units are reading those measurements and changing the downforce every fifth of a second.

When we look at research done on my own farm, we used to want to see seed corn emergence within 24-48 hours. Then we started looking more closely and decided corn needed to be out of the ground evenly within 24 hours.

Looking at our own on-farm 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 and a proper closing system leads to much more even seed emergence.

Since even emergence is partly a result of planting at the right depth, what needs to be considered?

Fulton: One thing I question when we see issues is seeding depth and making sure the planter is set up properly. If I want to plant corn at an inch and three-quarters, I make sure I am accomplishing that.

I check to make sure we are seeding at the desired depth. 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 we need to make adjustments and precision technology can help us do that. We also need to make sure our average seeding depth is where we thought we’d be.

Lehmkuhl: Even with all of this technology, you need to get off the tractor seat and see what is going on behind your planter. You need to dig and see what is going on.

We keep a battery operated leaf blower in the tractor cab. This allows us to blow out 10 feet of seed trench to see what the closing wheel system is doing. Are we pinching the soil? Are we creating a compaction zone with too much weight on the planter? Are we planting at the right depth?

Just because the monitor tells you one thing, you still need to make sure what is happening back there on the planter.

What are some important things to check on a no-till planter before heading to the field this spring?

Lehmkuhl: It is beyond leveling the planter and some of the nuts-and-bolts things that are common sense. As you dive deeper into that row unit, we see problems with some other wear parts you may not think about. When we look for more even emergence, if there is a quarter-inch difference in depth of a particular row it can make the difference. Dive deeper with a closer look into your row units.

Fulton: I’m assuming you have been through the planter over the winter and you’ve replaced the wear parts and disc openers. Did you run a quick calibration test to make sure you are meeting the proper plant population demand? Are your meters ready to go? Think about the planting depth you want early in the spring, mid- and late-season. How is the soil moisture? Make sure you select a seeding depth to measure soil moisture conditions.

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

When we are putting the planter in the ground, my mind is already on scouting the crop later in the growing season. What am I going to do and what am I going to be looking for when I start scouting the crop? You need to be collecting the planted maps, the downforce maps and everything.

As we get into June and July and something comes up, having those maps available offers great intelligence to get to certain parts of the field to try and evaluate those circumstances.

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