Wallaces Farmer

Why it pays to attend ISU’s Planter University

Consider enrolling in one-day program for next year to optimize your planter’s performance.

April 4, 2024

4 Min Read
Doug Houser adjusting planter
HANDS-ON LEARNING: Doug Houser, ISU digital ag Extension specialist (left), discusses planter adjustment options with a participant at 2024 Planter University session. ISU

by Chris Kick

Planting season varies wildly from year to year, and technology is always changing. Cool and wet conditions can dramatically delay planting. When soil conditions are remarkably dry, getting seed in the soil at the correct depth is a challenge. But just as each planting season is different, so too are the decisions for optimizing the planting technology.

Iowa State University offers its Planter University in early February at five locations in the state. The one-day program is for farmers and ag industry professionals to learn how to optimize their machinery for greater planting efficiency and farm profitability.

A participant from this year’s event wrote, “This was the best planter clinic I’ve been to, period. The agronomic background, along with the machinery knowledge and relating them together was spot on. This class made every person more money.”

ISU’s Digital Ag Innovation Team partnered with Extension agronomists and ag engineers to create this hands-on program, which offers unbiased, brand-neutral training to farmers and ag industry professionals. Held indoors, the planter demonstrations and presentations explain new technology and how to use it effectively.

Participants learn how to make adjustments in the field, evaluate and calibrate their equipment, and obtain maximum planter performance. They gain insights into how seedbed conditions and preparation affect planter row unit performance. They also gain a better understanding of the data today’s planters can generate and how to use that data on their farms.

First offered in 2022, Planter University has seen continued success, with more than 400 people attending in the first two years. Initial participant surveys showed a value of greater than $5 per acre gained from attending. When spread over time and acres across the state, small improvements have the potential for high-dollar impacts.

Understanding your planter

With an average of 13 million acres planted to corn and 10 million acres planted to soybean each year, Iowa is a major national leader in both crops. Farmers, Iowa’s energy and fiber industries, and the state’s agricultural economy depend on crop production.

“Being able to put complex machinery to work on the farm is critical to the success of growers and the agricultural economy,” says Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with ISU Extension.

Surveys conducted in 2022 and 2023 showed a major increase in participants who felt “extremely confident” in making planter adjustments based on soil conditions or other factors. In a follow-up survey after planting, nearly 70% replaced worn items on their planter as a result of the workshop, and half said they evaluated or performed more thorough maintenance on their planter prior to the start of planting season.

“With Planter University, we offer a low-pressure learning environment,” says Ben Covington, an ag engineer at Iowa State. “We’re not trying to sell the farmer any parts or widgets or anything like that. We’re here to give them the information they need.”

Dial in right settings

“Our goal with this program is to teach farmers how to use this new technology the best way possible on their own acres,” says ISU ag engineer Levi Powell. “The fundamentals are the same across all brands, so we want to help growers make the best decisions for their own operations.”

Past attendees say they gained valuable skills that are improving their farms and their understanding of planting technology and have learned new concepts that allow them to make informed decisions. In addition, they are sharing the lessons learned with others, creating a multiplier effect and spurring interest in future programs.

“With this technology and the way that these planters work, there is always something new to learn,” Anderson says. “That's one of the great things about our digital ag team at Iowa State — they’re learning and sharing new things every year.”

What works for your farm

This year, Planter University participants dug furrows indoors using four portable soil bins and a row unit machine. The bins represented different field conditions with associated agronomic and yield data.

“This really helped bring everything full circle for the participants,” Powell says. “When we cover the details of planter settings, they can see the furrows and dig in them, and learn about the impact on yield that those planter settings or issues can have.”

“We see people at Planter University who come back for not just one year, but in some cases two years,” Anderson says. “They can continue to gather information, learn more and make the appropriate adjustments for every planting season.”

Kick is a communications specialist with ISU Extension.

Source: Iowa State University

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