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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Are Perfect Planters Profitable?

Apr 04, 2010
Do you achieve enough yield gain to justify making a corn planter mechanically "perfect" each spring? Farm Journal Magazine's Ken Ferrie has proven that emergence timing, minimal seed furrow compaction, minimal closing wheel compaction and consistent seed spacing within the row maximize final yields. But what if...

-You have 2000 acres to plant and your disk openers measure 14 5/8 inches. The planter's manufacturer calls for replacing disk openers at 14 1/2 inches. Will it decrease yields if you save $50 to $75 per row and run the openers one more year and wear them beyond manufacturer's specifications?

-You had your finger units checked last year by the dealer. If you turn them by hand, they all "feel" the same. Is it worth the price to have all the units rechecked again this year?

-You're a part-time farmer with a full-time job in town. You farm the 'Home 80,' or some odd-patches that the "big guys" don't want to rent. Your planter is a 30-year old 6-row. Clutches are worn, chains are worn--everything is worn. The cost of new disk openers, new clutches, and all new chains is more than the planter is worth at the local equipment auction. How much can you afford to spend on a planter that only plants 100 acres of corn a year?

-You've run the numbers in your head dozens of times: Looking strictly at time-in-the-seat, without regard for weather, if you run your old 12-row planter at 6 1/2  to 7 mph you can get everything planted in 10 days, but if you trade for a 16-row or 24-row you can slow down to 5 or 5 1/2 mph and get it all done 10 days or less. Is it worth the price of trading planters to drive slower?

Spending money on a planter is no guarantee a farmer will make money. The profit from a winter's worth of machinery preparation and expense often hinges on a good rain in August and a lucky phone call to sell crop just before some fluke in politics or world trade takes the bottom out of the market.

BUT---I have opinions about planter maintenance and preparation. For what it's worth...

Disk openers don't become worthless when they reach their magical "replacement diameter," they are just more prone to damage from rocks, don't cut residue as well, and suffer more bearing failures simply because the bearings have more acres on them. Finger units need checked every year because they're complex. Not complex like a computer, but complex in that they have springs and clips and bumps and wear areas that must work precisely for maximum performance. Part-time farmers with 50-to 100-acres need to realize they've got an expensive hobby that's an excuse to drive tractors on weekends. (Did I really just write that...?)  And finally--it's my opinion that if there's any piece of equipment that needs to be "over-sized" on a farm, it's the planter. The weather-window for planting crops when soil conditions are optimal is very, very small. I know from digging behind hundreds of planters over the years that anything more than 5 1/2- to 6 mph reduces metering accuracy and messes up seed spacing within the row, and it's been well-documented that seed spacing directly impacts final yield.

A mechanically perfect planter gives a farmer the option of perfectly placing seeds for maximum yield. With a worn or mis-adjusted planter, a farmer is merely putting seeds in the ground and crossing his fingers. Depending on weather and other variables, the final yield from a perfect planter may be no better than the yield from a worn planter. But Ken Ferrie's research shows overwhelming evidence that over the long-haul, well-placed seeds dramatically out-yield seeds planted by worn or mis-adjusted planters. Considering the cost of modern hybrids, growers miss significant yield potential and profit if they don't give those seeds the best possible start.
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