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Row shutoffs, electric seed units make good planter upgrades

Tom J. Bechman Tom Nugent sitting in cab of tractor
LIKES ELECTRIC ROW UNITS: Tom Nugent, Elnora, Ind., says electric row units that accomplish seed savings on ends and point rows are a good place to start when upgrading your planter.
Corn Illustrated: If you want a quick payback on planter upgrades, start here.

You’ve decided to invest in your planter to do a better job. And you’ve already worked through the planter, making sure it’s in tip-top condition. Where is the first place you could invest money in upgrades to get the most payback?

The answer, of course, depends on how your planter is currently equipped. “If you don’t have automatic row shutoffs, start there,” says Brian Luck, Extension agriculture engineer at the University of Wisconsin. “Automatic row shutoff can pay for itself quickly through seed savings.”

Related: Refresh your planter before investing in add-ons

After studying research going back to 2013 and doing his own trials, Luck says seed savings can amount to as much as $15 per acre for corn. How much you save may depend upon how fields are laid out.

Even if you farm square fields, you would save enough seed with row shutoff technology to pay back the cost of the add-on in a timely manner. The more fields deviate from rectangles, the faster the payback.

Farmers’ advice

Carter Morgan, Cayuga, Ind., is part of a family farm operation. Morgan also works with farmers interested in starting into no-till and cover crops on behalf of the Vermillion County Soil and Water Conservation District. He agrees that once you’ve been through the planter from top to bottom and replaced worn parts, achieving row shutoff of seed with some sort of system should be next on the list.

“Electric drives seem to be the most accurate in shutting off the most rows in a timely manner,” he says. “This helps with reducing excess seed use on point rows. It also allows corn plants more room to grow.” If you’ve ever walked through end rows where someone doesn’t use row shutoffs, you know those double-planted areas are often so thick that it hinders yield instead of helping it.

Pete Illingworth maintains planters and plants most field crops at the Throckmorton Purdue Agricultural Center near Romney, Ind. When he added Precision Planting vSet units to an older John Deere MaxEmerge planter, he saw a big change. The vSet units aren’t all the way to electric drives, but they can pair with electric drive units.

“They made a heck of a difference in terms of seed placement,” he says. “It was a difference you could even see visually.”

Depends on tillage

Tom Nugent, Elnora, Ind., and his son, Thomas, put together a 16-row planter from scratch in 2020 for 2021, including many features they felt could help them obtain better yield and improve the bottom line over time. When asked about his choices for investing in add-ons, Nugent says it depends.

“If you till before planting, I think electric seed meters would help most by eliminating lots of moving parts and functioning as row clutches [to stop seed dribble]. It also allows population to be varied on the go.

“If you no-till, hydraulic downforce would provide the most benefit by ensuring good seed-to-soil contact. The No. 1 priority is good emergence, regardless of population. Either way, electric meters and hydraulic downforce are my No. 1 and 2 choices.”

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles on the economics of planter add-ons. Dont miss the first story, Refresh your planter before investing in add-ons.

TAGS: Planting Corn
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