In the Shop
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.
The Price Of Planter Perfection
Apr 07, 2013
Working on finger-style planter seed meters has emphasized something I've seen over and over: When it comes to performance on farm machinery, perfection comes at a price.
Using finger-style seed meters as an example: On a test stand, a meter runs 96- to 97-percent singulation. So I tweak the unit's finger tension, fiddle with belt alignment, maybe try a new seed brush. I can get it to the range of 98 percent, but no amount of additional adjusting gets me closer to perfection. Closer inspection reveals a "little" wear to the backing plate, a "little" wear to the base of each of the fingers, a "little" wear to the face of the cam that actuates the fingers. None of those components are worn enough to justify the expense of replacement, but all the wear eventually adds up. If I replace the entire finger assembly, performance pops to 99.6 per cent. If I replace the backing plate or seed belt drive wheel, it climbs even closer to the hallowed 100 per cent performance I seek.
Does gaining another 1 to 1.5 per cent of performance justify the $75 to more than $100 per row it will cost to make the units as good as possible? Tell a farmer he needs to spend $1200 on his 12 seed meters after he just dropped $4000 on new disk openers and other mechanical necessities, and the first question is, "How far off ARE the meters?" Nine out of ten farmers eventually decide that 98 percent is close enough to perfect for them.
Would it generate enough extra yield from seed meters honed to 100 per cent performance to offset the cost of perfecting them? I don't know. There are so many other variables between planting season and harvest, and because corn is so flexible and resilient, it's tough to know if the farmer will see yield reductions due to 1 per cent less accuracy at planting.
As a mechanic, I want things as close to perfect as possible. My goal is 100 per cent accuracy from seed meters, perfect placement of seeds in the seed furrow, perfect firming of the soil over the seeds and therefore perfect spacing and perfect germination. Whether or not customers are willing to pay for that perfection is up to them.