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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.

What A New Planter Seed Monitor Will Teach You

Jan 24, 2014

 Planter seed monitors have become incredibly precise in their ability to monitor seeding rates, seed spacing, and in some cases row unit down pressure and other variables. Add auto-steer to the tractor, and the operator has time to sit and study all the information that's being thrown at him.

Once planter operators sort through the information and decide what's relevant and what's entertainment, there seem to be some universal points that draws people's attention:

-Some seed monitors provide a cash value/acre of how much underseeding, overseeding, skips and multiples are effecting potential yield. Farmers who previously "couldn't afford to plant any slower than 6 miles an hour" suddenly found they "can't afford to plant any faster than 5 miles an hour."

-Being able to monitor variations in seeding accuracy within fractions of a percent between rows can cause ulcers. No machine is 100 percent perfect all the time. Worrying about 0.5 percent difference between rows is wasted energy. Yes, it's nice to fine-tune the machine as close to perfection as possible, but...I've seen guys spend all afternoon on a sunny, 75-degree day in the last week of April trying to make all seed meters on a 24-row planter plant EXACTLY the same. 

-Seed monitors are not inherently "genius." They have to be calibrated correctly, and need accurate data loaded. If the tractor's radar gun hasn't been calibrated, the planter's speed readings will be off and the population readings will be skewed. The planter is a mechanical beast that can only plant what the sprockets and chains make it plant. The best test is to dig and see what's actually in the row. It's then up to the operator to use calibrations and accurate data inputs to make the monitor match what the planter is actually doing. Only after the seed monitor has been tweaked so its numbers match what's actually going in the ground do I pay attention to all the numbers and pretty colors on the screen.

What I'm trying to say is that a seed monitor is merely an informational device that tells the operator what sort of job the planter is doing. Before you panic because the seed monitor shows things aren't perfect, it's critical to (1) determine if numbers or values are inaccurate because the monitor is incorrectly calibrated or programmed, and (2) determine if it's really necessary to be "perfect" in that aspect of planting. Just because it's possible to detect 0.5 percent variation between rows doesn't mean it's cost effective to chase absolute mechanical perfection.

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