Up to Speed on High-Speed Planters

January 23, 2016 02:35 AM

There’s more to planting faster than pushing the gearshift ahead a couple of notches

There’s a learning curve when switching from a conventional planter that runs at 5 mph to a high-speed planter capable of moving at a 10 mph clip.

“High-speed planters emphasize planting is a system that starts with preplant tillage and doesn’t end until the closing wheels have closed the seed furrow,” says Phil Jennings, service manager, Kinze Manufacturing. “High-speed planting is like a puzzle. You can’t afford to have any of the pieces missing in order to do the best job possible.”

Higher planting speeds also magnify issues that influence planter performance. Adjusting planter components and accessories becomes critical.

Row cleaners are nearly mandatory on high-speed planters in no-till, minimum-till and some conventionally tilled fields. While conventional planters “tickle” the ground surface with row cleaners to clear residue from the paths of disk openers on each row, high-speed planters favor slightly more aggressive row-cleaner settings.

“If we keep some down pressure on the row cleaners, we’ve measured it reduces row-unit vibration and slightly improves stand establishment,” says Cory Muhlbauer, research and development agronomist, Precision Planting. “There’s a risk of creating trenches, but you offset that by having floating row cleaners with good depth bands so the row cleaners can react and move up and down with the soil surface. If everything is set correctly, the row cleaners are turning all the time, moving clods, root balls and a little dirt so the row-unit gauge wheels are running on smooth soil.”

Aggressive row cleaners can create trenches that expose damp soil, which clumps on gauge wheels and disturbs accurate seed depth, and increase the risk of rill erosion during heavy rains. 

Ride quality—the amount of vertical jostling row units experience—is important with high-speed planters 
but for different reasons than conventional planters. In conventional planters, ride quality affects seed spacing. With high-speed planters, it influences seed depth. 

With conventional planters, carefully metered seeds free-fall 10" to 14" down a seed tube before landing in the seed furrow. Abrupt movements of the planter unit can cause the four or five seeds falling at any time through the seed tube to contact the side of the tube. The resulting tumbling and ricocheting inside the tube causes uneven spacing when the seeds land in the furrow.

High-speed planters use some form of belt or mechanical seed-delivery mechanism to physically deliver seed from the seed meter to the seed furrow. Seed spacing is maintained despite any erratic row-unit movement.

Ride quality in high-speed planters then becomes an issue of seed placement related to vertical movement of the planter row unit. 

Visualize the height of a running board on a pickup easing over a speed bump in a parking lot at 5 mph. Now visualize how much higher the running board lurches if the truck hits the speed bump at 10 mph. In the same way, ride quality influences seed depth on fast-moving planters.

One way to improve ride quality is to slightly increase downforce on row units. This also helps keep disk openers in the ground as speeds increase, says Drew Gerber, sales representative, Horsch North America. 

Due to the physics involved with opening a V-furrow at higher speeds, the need for increased row-unit down pressure varies with soil consistency. Tilled, softer soils require less down pressure than firmer no-till soils. 

Soil consistency also influences the amount of downforce necessary to close seed furrows behind planters cruising at 7 mph to 10 mph.

Conventional rubber-tired closing wheels might need an additional “notch” of downforce at higher planting speeds. Substituting cast- iron closing wheels adds mass to the closing system and reduces the need for more spring tension. Rubber-tire closing wheels that require running in the fourth notch (highest spring tension) on a closing wheel frame can be replaced with cast-iron closing wheels and run in the second or third notch, with less spring tension, and achieve similar results.

Adding one- or two-tined closing wheels to the planter to lightly till and close seed furrows is an option but also creates the risk of overtilling as speeds increase. 

“At 5 mph tined closing wheels till the sidewall of the seed furrow to help close it, but at 8 mph they start to throw dirt and residue,” Gerber explains. “At 9 mph or 10 mph you’re throwing little rooster tails and moving too much dirt.”

The horsepower requirements of a high-speed planter might also mean a larger tractor is necessary.

In spring 2015, Rayville, La., farmer Dustin Morris ran a 16-row, 30" John Deere 1720 Integral planter
equipped with Precision Planting SpeedTubes at 7 mph to 10 mph alongside their other John Deere planter equipped with conventional seed meters running at 5 mph. Planting corn and soybeans in raised beds prepared by a Bingham Brothers Hipper Chopper, Morris noticed the additional horsepower requirements of pulling a planter at higher speeds.

“Planting soybeans in some of our heavier soils, I didn’t have enough tractor [John Deere 8285R] to run 10 mph,” Morris says. “With the IVT transmission, at 8 mph or 9 mph I was usually at max fuel flow. Horsepower can absolutely be an issue as planting speeds increase.”

“Horsepower requirement is definitely a conversation that needs to occur when switching to a high-speed planter,” says Jacob Swanson, John Deere product manager. “It simply takes more horsepower to go faster, and that’s accentuated in rolling terrain or softer soils.”

High-speed planting magnifies the importance of easy-to-adjust pneumatic or hydraulically controlled downforce systems.

While there is a learning curve associated with operating high-speed planters, the consensus is the new machines offer impressive precision and productivity.

Swanson was not only involved with the long-term development of the ExactEmerge planter but bought one of the first production 16-row, 30" John Deere 1775 models to use on his family’s farm. 

“For us, it was easily a 100% increase in productivity,” Swanson says. “We were getting 23 to 25 acres per hour with our conventional planter at 5 mph. The ExactEmerge planter jumped us to 49 to 52 acres per hour.”

For Louisiana farmer Morris, even his skeptical father eventually conceded the merits of high-speed planting.

“He just couldn’t see how it could be as accurate planting at 9 mph or 10 mph,” Morris says. “So he spent three days following us around, digging and comparing seed spacing and depth.”

Results of the intense, skeptical, dirty-knees comparison between a conventional planter at 5 mph versus a properly adjusted and carefully operated high-speed planter at 9 mph to 10 mph? “Dad says this winter we’re switching the other planter over to high-speed,” Morris says. 

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