Next Year's Planters
May 23, 2013
I'm not in marketing or sales, but a lot of farmers wander through the shop and ask questions of mechanics before they buy a new planter. This spring's funky weather has definitely increased the interest of farmers in upgrading the size and efficiency of their seeding equipment. From recent conversations, here are some of the hot trends for NEXT year's planting season:
-bigger planters. Farmers want the option to get everything planted in five to ten "good" days, allowing them to wait one or two extra days and avoid planting in overly wet soil. Ten days used to be adequate; now I'm hearing a lot of guys saying they want to be able to start and end their corn planting in five days if they need to.
-autosteer. It's more than just straight rows. Autosteer adds two, four, maybe six hours of planting time to a day. A lot of guys went round-the-clock this spring, thanks to autosteer. It's hard to explain how autosteer increases productivity until you try it, because it goes way beyond steering and reduces back aches, shoulder aches and makes it "comfortable" to be in the cab for endless hours.
-enhanced seed metering. Mainline planter manufacturers have had their feet held to the fire by aftermarket manufacturers. "Seed meter wars" are being waged, and farmers are the benefactors. Seeding accuracy with both factory and aftermarket seeding systems is greatly improved over just 10 years ago. If you're not using the improved designs, you're missing the opportunity to improve seeding accuracy.
-pinch-row-compaction. The idea that the tractor, and especially center-fill planters, create yield-reducing compaction between the six center rows of each pass has been well-documented. Wet springs like this year really decrease yields in those rows---up to 20 to 30 bu/ac. on each pass within those rows. Much of the damage is from the weight of the tractor but center-fill planters seem to add to the problem in some cases. Some farmers are going back to planters with individual hoppers on each row. Some planter manufacturers offer weight transfer systems that distribute the weight of the center seed hopper evenly across the entire planter. Bigger, heavier center-fill planters actually reduce total yield reductions--do the math, and the six rows behind a 12-row planter result in half a field being influenced by pinch-row-compaction, while only one-fourth of the rows and acres behind a 24-row planter are exposed to pinch-row-compaction.
-gadgets. There are lots of interesting gadgets and systems that can be added to planters. Some offer significant improvements to planting accuracy and the "adjustability" of row cleaners, down pressure systems, and other planter functions. Few of the add-ons are cheap. Whether they increase yields enough to offset their cost is yet to be determined. Four-dollar corn this fall would go a long way toward determining how many planters get upgraded to those cutting-edge systems this winter.