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Planter Purchase Guide

Key decisions to make before you buy your next planter.

If you have ever built a house, you know that there are thousands of small decisions that will impact the way you live for many years. From how many square feet to where to locate the light switch in the family room. The same thing is true when you purchase a planter. Every decision will impact the success of your future planting seasons… and your harvests. So, it is critical that you think through every aspect of the planter and how it impacts your cropping systems.

Here are ten decisions to consider as you hop onto TractorHouse or swing by the equipment dealer. Remember that each decision affects every other system on the planter. For example, if you have auto steer and opt to order a planter without markers, remember that those markers provide a lot of weight on the wings. You may need to add weight if you do not have markers. So, be sure to review the impact of each decision on the other decisions you have made to ensure the best planting system.

1. Planter Size

Many times, the need to cover more acres is the main reason producers shop for a new planter. So, the first decision is usually a size decision. For most of us, we should assume that we have a 10 day window to plant our corn acres. Thus, we must size our planter in order to be reasonably certain that we can cover the acres within the 10 day window. Our rule of thumb is that you can cover 100 acres per season with each row. So, a 12 row planter can cover 1,200 acres in that 10 day window. For a more scientific analysis, check out this 2004 study by the University of Illinois on Planter Costs for Alternative Farm Sizes.

But, before committing to more rows (which really drives planter costs higher) consider alternatives. The key is acres per hour. You can increase acres per hour three different ways: more rows, faster planting speeds or less downtime/fill time. Faster planting speeds can come with a big cost if those speeds hurt spacing accuracy. With the 20/20 SeedSense monitor, you can measure how increased speeds affect skips and seed spacing so you can maximize speed without incurring yield loss. You can also increase acres per hour by decreasing the time spent filling – so, look at adding a bulk seed handling system. If you can spend a little money on a bulk fill system, can you eliminate the need for a bigger planter

2. Row Spacing

A popular topic in planter configuration is row spacing. As plant populations increase, should row spacing adjust? It is intuitive that each plant needs room to thrive – room for leaves to capture sunlight and room for roots to capture nutrients. As plant population increases, plants begin to fight for elbow room. For corn planted at 30,000 population in 30-inch rows, average spacing between plants is 7 inches. At 36,200 it drops to 5.7 inches. In 20 inch rows, the spacing is 7.8 inches at 40,000. In twin rows, the in-row spacing at 36,000 is over 11 inches.

We believe that plants closer than four inches have diminished yields because of crowding. At 36,000 plants in 30 inch rows with a standard spacing deviation of 3 inches, which is very typical in modern planters, about one third of the plants would be spaced less than four inches apart. In 20-inch or twin rows, almost none of the plants would be within four inches at 3 inch standard deviation. So, look at your planting populations over the last five years and project what populations will be in three years. If you predict that populations will move beyond 36,000 while you own the new planter, take a serious look at a row spacing change.

Of course, remember that a change in row spacing can drive a change in your entire cropping system including corn head, side dress and fertilizer systems and crop spraying. For a closer look at twin row production systems, take a look at this link: Double Take on Twins.

3. Seed Delivery - Bulk Fill vs Row Unit Boxes

Bulk fill planters that distribute seed to row units are increasingly popular among newer planter models. They decrease load time and the amount of seed handling, which saves valuable time during planting; however, if you need or want to split hybrids, plant plots and split the planter for refuge hybrids – or would have other reasons to segregate seed, a row unit with standard boxes may be a better option. Also, be sure to examine weight distribution across the planter. If a large portion of the seed and planter’s excess weight is passed to the ground through the center tires, you will deal with compaction issues on middle rows in certain field conditions.

Some planters have a weight transfer system that can move weight from the center section to the wings. Others offer tracks or floatation tires to reduce the negative effect of center-section compaction. We have seen sixty-bushel yield decreases between the center and wing sections. So, be mindful of the potential costs that come with the benefits of faster fills.

It is easy to get caught up in all of the big decisions of row spacing, bulk fill and fertilizer systems and overlook the primary function of the planter – get each and every seed in the right place. If the meter doesn’t function correctly, your crop doesn’t get planted correctly.

4. Meter Technology

Meter technology is available to provide 98.5% singulation or better. Our Precision Meter for finger planters and eSet Vacuum upgrades are available for most Kinze and John Deere model planters. We also have vSet, a vacuum upgrade for finger meter planters. These upgrades put top of the line performance where you need it most in the planter.

Whatever planter you choose, line up a service plan with a local certified Precision Planting Dealer who can calibrate with the MeterMax Test Stand and ensure you get the best possible performance out of your meters.

5. Drive System

There are two types of meter drive systems – hydraulic and ground. Ground drive systems offer simplicity and reliability. But, they do not permit on-the-go changes to population to match yield zones or soil types. Hydraulic drive systems are more expensive and complex, but offer the advantages of variable rate population control and a smoother drive system which can improve meter performance. Hydraulic drive systems also may require larger, more modern tractors to provide the flow rates necessary for the hydraulic motors.

Monitor systems and controllers like the 20/20 RowFlow can work with a hydraulic drive to give you greater seeding rate control. This type of system also gives you the ability to do variable rate seeding. See our payback analysis on variable rate. If switching from ground drive to variable rate, make sure your tractor has the hydraulic capacity to handle the system. Some planters may even have a PTO pump on the planter as an option.

6. Swath Control - Row Clutches

One of the most popular new options for planters is swath control or row shutoff systems. By reducing overlap, it is possible to reduce seed costs and improve yield through decreased completion in the headlands. This can be especially compelling in fields with terraces or small, irregular shapes.

Clutches and controls can be expensive. So, look at ways to capture most of the benefit with lower startup costs. If you are using multiple hydraulic drives, you can opt for “half-width” disconnect that can cut overlaps in half or in thirds. If adding clutches, you can limit clutch costs by controlling two, three or four rows sections instead of every row.

Remember, if you are going to use hydraulic drive with multiple motors, be sure to compare the row shutoff configuration to a half-width shut off to get the most accurate rate of return.

7. Starter Fertilizer System

Even if you are not currently applying starter or N with the planter, your planter evaluation should include consideration of future needs. If corn on corn is part of your cropping plan… or may be down the road, odds are good that you could benefit from an at-planting nitrogen boost. We’ve seen two recent seasons where yellow corn at V6 has taken its toll on yields.

But look beyond the coulters or knives you will need for starter and N placement. Match tanks to your seed capacity to synchronize your fertilizer and seed fills to reduce loading time and increase acres planted per hour. Also, think about the pump system. Ground drive planters that are also running a pump can transfer more vibration back through the hex shaft and into your meters.

Be sure to consider other planter attachments before you settle on a fertilizer system. Row Cleaners and down force systems, parallel arms and other modifications can limit the types of fertilizer systems that are available for your planter.

8. Row Unit Down Force

Row unit down force can be a yield making or yield breaking setting on your corn planter. Down force is needed to get the planter’s double disc openers down to your desired planter depth. This amount of force is a dynamic number that changes based on resistance from soil type, field conditions, and planting speed. While we normally think only about down force on the row unit, we have found that, often, the row unit will actually need zero or negative down pressure… That is the row unit actually needs weight removed to eliminate excessive gauge-wheel compaction. Check out our video, “Understanding Down Force” here.

Pneumatic systems provide responsive, consistent pressure and are easy to adjust. There are many types of spring systems on the market. We have found that some of the most popular spring systems do not provide consistent down force as the row unit moves through the field. Some of the side spring options do tend to exert consistent force thorough their range of motion; however, this style can struggle to provide enough down force in certain field conditions.

There are some gauge-wheel styles that are designed to reduce sidewall compaction. These can be effective on row units that have a seedboot or shoe to hold loose sidewall soil away from the seed. These reduced inner diameter (RID) tires can also work with standard double disk systems in damp soils. But in dry soils, there may not be enough pressure to hold the sidewall which can have a negative effect on seed depth.

This is often the most critical, yet overlooked system on the planter. Consult with your Precision Planting dealer for details on the performance of the down force systems available on today’s planters.

9. Row Cleaners

Almost all cropping systems will benefit from having row cleaners on the planter. And, with today’s healthier and larger hybrids, residue management is increasingly important. Row cleaners should move trash and debris out of the row by lightly brushing the ground. If set too high, debris remains in the row. Set too low, trenching occurs which can move soil effecting seed placement and lowering the effectiveness of any soil applied herbicide. Your row cleaner choice will also impact your choice of down force system and fertilizer system. We prefer floating row cleaners because they provide more consistent row cleaning, and they do not affect the down force requirements the way pinned or fixed row cleaners can.

For optimum row cleaner control, consider CleanSweep, which uses a pneumatic dual cylinder to give you precise control at your fingertip in the cab.

10. Closing System

The last thing your planter does is certainly not the least. A good closing system will collapse the side walls and cover the seed leaving little to no evidence of the trench being created – while not moving the seed. There are many factory and aftermarket options for closing systems. When deciding on a closing system consider the field conditions you plant in, the type of soil and environmental factors such as temperature and moisture. Since these factors can vary throughout the season, consider a closing system that can be adaptable for different conditions throughout the season.

Most importantly make sure your closing system is installed and functioning properly. Closing systems that are mis-aligned or running with too much or little pressure can have a profound effecto on planting depth, seed bed enviroment, and emergence.

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Farming By The Seed™