Planter Pushes Pace

December 6, 2013 06:04 PM
Planter Pushes Pace

First reports come from the field on Horsch’s Maestro

Tight planting windows require a machine with enough speed and seed capacity to get the job done right. That’s where early adopters say Horsch’s Maestro planter pushes the throttle forward.

It travels at high speeds; boasts a large-scale frame, center-fill seed hopper and fertilizer tank; provides precise seeding with an electronic metering system; and features a hydraulics system that maintains down pressure across the row units with enough flexibility to keep components from snapping in rough terrain.

"My corn plants are all identical in height—same size stalks," says Justin Heinle, who grows 17,000 acres of corn, sunflowers and spring wheat with his dad and brother near the North Dakota cities of Hebron, Hazen and Bismarck. "It does a wonderful job of placing the seed precisely."

Coming off of its first planting season in the U.S., the German-born Maestro planter has been reconfigured for American crop conditions. Farmers are saying it stands out because it is faster, bigger and more accurate than competitive equipment.

In spite of its frame size, the Maestro planter is maneuverable enough to fit into tight spots

"They’re trying to gain market share, so they put all of this innovation in there from the very beginning," notes Doug Goyings, an Ohio farmer who grows 3,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat about 35 miles east of Fort Wayne, Ind. He planted his 1,300 acres of corn with a Maestro this year.

Heinle’s dryland ground produced 130 bu. to 150 bu. per acre this year, up 50 bu. or more per acre. Meanwhile, irrigated ground saw at least a 20-bu. bump. To be clear, plentiful rain was a
critical part of the equation.

In Ohio, Goyings expects a record corn crop with yields ranging from 185 bu. to 217 bu. per acre.

Field tests. Based on their experiences, the farmers say the Maestro orchestrates an impressive mix of planter attributes that work together to get the crop in the ground for optimized emergence. The machine is available in a 24-row 30" spacing configuration, and more widths and row combinations are planned, says Drew Gerber, sales and marketing product manager for Horsch.

First, the planter is fast. Most farmers can comfortably increase their aver­age speed by 20% to 40% using the Maestro, Gerber explains.

Goyings averaged between 6½ mph to 7 mph, up from his typical 5 mph, using a Challenger MT765D. A tractor of at least 350 hp should be used with the Maestro, Gerber says. Hydrau­lic needs are approximately 30 gal. per minute, so most newer tractors should have no issues.

Heinle averaged 7 mph to 7½ mph this season, compared with the 5 mph to 5½ mph he used to travel with previous planters. He uses a Challenger MT845C with 450 engine horsepower and says he would have to slow planting speed with a less-powerful tractor.

Maestro folding1

The Maestro toolbar can be folded up for a transport width of 11'10". Unfolded in field mode, the planter comprises three 8-row sections.

Second, the planter is large. The seed tank holds 140 bu., and the fertilizer tank’s capacity is 1,000 gal., Gerber explains. That allows Heinle to plant 250 acres to 300 acres at a 24,000 plant population without stopping.

For Goyings, it wouldn’t hurt for the center-fill hopper to be smaller. That’s because he uses six varieties of corn seed and doesn’t require as much capacity. At the same time, the unit cleans out nicely so varieties aren’t mixed together in the field.

Also, Goyings says he wishes the fertilizer tank was a bit larger because he applies 32 gal. of starter fluid per acre to give his heavy clay soil the extra kick of phosphorus that it needs. The starter is all placed 2" from the seed with none in the furrow. The liquid fertilizer system is built into the overall machine and cost, which is a plus, Heinle says. In the past, he’s had problems getting such systems to work with the planter to control row shutoffs.

The large frame is supported by big flotation tires on either wing and 20.8R42 tires on the main cart, which allows the weight of the planter to be transferred across the length of the toolbar. That feature caught Heinle’s attention, in particular. In each of the past two years, his planter’s frame broke amid muddy conditions, creating significant downtime. This year when his planter got stuck, he simply pulled it out with a tractor and kept going because of the planter’s ability to flip the toolbar high in the air and out of the mud. The toolbar can be folded up in a compact profile for trans­portation—11'10" in width—making his 90-mile trip between farms easier. Unfolded in field mode, the planter comprises three 8-row sections.

In spite of the frame’s size, it is maneuverable enough to fit between tree rows and other tight spots without too much difficulty, and because the liquid fertilizer system is built into the planter, backing up can be done easily, Heinle says.

Third, the planter features seed meters powered by electric drives, as opposed to a hex-and-sprocket system. A battery line runs from the tractor to power the meters at a rate of about 0.4 amps per motor. Stainless steel slotted metering disks are filled with seeds using a vacuum system. Multiple seed sizes can be planted. Goyings used both 60-lb. and 34-lb. varieties this season by adjusting the singulator on the row unit.

"If you notice on your monitor where you have too many skips or too many doubles, you can go back there and adjust this; just move it one notch," he explains. "It’s a noticeable change on the monitor."

A scraper moves seed to the outside of the disk. "Our accuracy coming off the meter is unparalleled," Gerber says. Disks are available for planting corn, soybeans, cotton and sunflowers. The planter comes with a monitor from Mueller Agriculture. Both Goyings and Heinle use that monitor, in addition to a Trimble monitor for auto-steer. Heinle has a Centerpoint RTX subscription, while Goyings uses RTK steering with a base station mounted on his grain leg.

Fourth, the planter keeps row units in check while retaining the ability to hop over obstacles. Horsch represents the first OEM to offer standard hydraulic down pressure on a planter. An accumulator system keeps down pressure on the wings, while cylinders force row units into the ground.

"That’s the key to going fast," Heinle says. "As you increase your speed, you might get some bouncing. I usually ran 650 lb. of down pressure on each row. We went out and checked, and the seed placement was excellent. I had no sidewall compaction."

On the row units, double-disk openers form a true "V" trench, and a pliable rubber firming wheel follows with a continuous rolling motion.

As early users, both Goyings and Heinle say dealer support has been available when needed. A Horsch employee met with Goyings and his dealer at Paul Martin & Sons in Napoleon, Ohio, to explain how to operate the monitor and ensure the planter was ready for the field.

In Heinle’s case, plastic pieces inside the seed-meter housing sustained damage from sunflower stalks while planting into more than 3,000 no-till acres. After calling his dealer at Butler Equipment in Bismarck, a Horsch engineer already in the U.S. came to his farm and incorporated several ideas to help protect the plastic meter components from damage.

While it takes a variety of factors to make a bin-busting corn crop, Heinle is confident the Maestro planter is an important one. His family is weighing whether to purchase a second planter for next season.

"I think this has the potential to be one of the best planters on the market," Heinle says. 

You can e-mail Nate Birt at

To watch a video demonstration of the Maestro planter in action from North Dakota farmer Justin Heinle, visit

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