Understand how seed monitors work to perfect planter performance
How much faith can farmers put in the numbers and graphics on the display of their planter’s seed monitor?
“What’s on the seed monitor display is a representation based on information from sensors and interpreted by software,” says Jeremy Hughes, product manager for Horsch. “Reality is what’s in the seed furrow behind the planter. If the monitor is showing a variance in planter performance, maybe some skips or doubles, or an over- or under-population situation, it’s up to the operator to compare what’s in the ground to what’s on the seed monitor display and make sure the monitor is reporting accurately.”
Planting 30,000 seeds per acre at 5.5 mph means there are about two seeds per second moving past seed- tube sensors. Seed monitor manufacturers use sophisticated algorithms to “smooth” the flow of data from sensors and translate it into what operators see on their monitor display screens.
Technology can’t replace a farmer’s responsibility to ground-truth planter performance.
“We provide the operator information [on the seed monitor display] that is agronomically actionable,” says Adam Sipes, John Deere product specialist. “If there’s supposed to be a seed in the furrow every 6", we display information on the monitor that advises the operator how close they are to that target without creating nuisance warnings. We use software to interpret the raw sensor data and display it as something useful to the operator.”
It’s important to know the origin of information provided by seed monitors. Some of the information is based on “hard” data generated by sensors—seeds per acre or row unit down-force, for example. Other information, such as seed spacing in the furrow, is a software-generated estimation.
“There is nothing on the market that’s in the seed furrow monitoring actual seed spacing,” Sipes says. “With planters that use seed tubes, there are opportunities for seeds that are metered perfectly coming out of the seed meter to have that perfect spacing disrupted as they fall down the seed tube.”
At best, seed monitors provide snapshots of a complex planting process. In less than a second, row cleaners smooth the seedbed, disk openers open a furrow, seed meters singulate and space seeds, seed tubes or a delivery system place seed in the furrow and closing wheels pinch the furrow closed over the seed.
“That’s why it’s important for the operator to use their monitor to decide if the issue is with the way the planter is mechanically metering and placing seed, or if other factors like speed and ground conditions are contributing to the issue,” Sipes says. “Seed metering and seed placement are separate parts of the planting process.”
Modern seed meters can be mechanically tuned to produce 99% to 100% accuracy when run on a planter test stand. Real-world variables, such as a rough seedbed, high humidity that encourages treated seeds to clump together or even a strong tail wind that degrades sensor accuracy, require operators to verify what is displayed on seed monitor screens.
“The truth is in the dirt,” says Phil Jennings, service manager at Kinze Manufacturing. “None of the new planter monitor technologies have removed the operator’s responsibility to get out of the cab, get his knees dirty and verify the mechanical performance of the planter.
“The only way to do that,” Jennings says, “is to do multiple in-field checks. It’s not enough to dig up a foot or so of seed. If you’re in 30" rows you need to lock up the closing wheels on a couple rows and check a full 17'5" stretch of row and count and measure every seed. That gives you an accurate measure of population, seed spacing and seed depth so you can decide if what your monitor is saying is true or if you need to make mechanical adjustments.”