April 14, 2023
At a Glance
- Allows farmers to fine tune planting operations.
After several decades of relatively few innovations in planting technology, the past decade or so has seen remarkable leaps in both high-tech and low-tech solutions for improved planting of corn, soybeans and other crops.
Equipment manufacturers have developed systems that are faster and produce more uniform emergence across varied conditions. In a Science for Success webinar March 24, Clemson University Extension Corn and Soybean Specialist Michael Plumblee emphasized that the new technology can increase yields, efficiency and productivity, but needs to be used across commodities.
“Many of the planter technologies being developed are likely being developed and pushed really for corn, just because it is more responsive to some of the technologies being developed,” Plumblee said.
A fact sheet produced by the Science for Success team of Extension soybean specialists from across the country points out that advances and availability of new planter technologies allow farmers to fine tune planting operations, optimizing seed and product placement across a wide range of field conditions.
Plumblee and the other specialists note that soybeans do not generate the same return on investment on planter technologies as corn, but that the technology does not hinder soybean production or yield.
In short, Plumblee said a farmer likely needs to produce corn to benefit most from the technology. However, he says farmers need to do their homework and develop a planting system that works best in their particular operation.
Advances in planter technology include variable rate seeding, planter down force, in-furrow applications, row cleaners, and closing wheels. Plumblee notes one hot topic with all the new planting systems is high-speed planting to cover more acreage in a narrower window of time.
Plumblee defines high-speed planting as running the planter in the 7 to 12 mph range. He points out that this higher speed can work in some of the larger fields in the Midwest and Midsouth but won’t work in every production system.
“Here in South Carolina, we do a lot of strip tilling with the planter. Our field size is small and irregularly shaped. I don’t think we could physically plant at some of these speeds. But at the same time in the Midsouth, where planting windows are narrow and maybe equipment is limited, if we could take a six- row planter and cover the same number of acres as a 12 -row planter by doubling the speed, there’s probably some value in that moving forward,” Plumblee said.
One benefit of the new technology is seed singulation which is the ability of the planter to drop each seed at the desired spacing within the row. Plumblee notes that soybeans are more tolerant to a wide range of planting densities and seed singulation does not generally impact soybean yield.
“Singulation is really important, especially in corn, where we are trying to get each seed placed in the ground in a nice uniform distance apart within the row. In reality, we really don’t see a lot of yield impact in soybean with good singulation like we do in corn. The caveat with that is if we are planting really late in soybean, where we may not have enough days left and time to accumulate sunlight and heat. If we are planting late, we want to make sure the plants are spaced so they can intercept light,” Plumblee said.
As for planter down force, Plumblee said the technology has been available on planters for some time now, but a focus of the newer technology has better control in reacting to different soil conditions with down force. Down force has been developed to overcome soil resistance to maintain a uniform seeding depth.
Uniform seeding depth
“In theory, if we have a uniform seeding depth, we have uniform emergence with the crop. In corn, this is a very significant impact on our overall yield. Uniform emergence is less important in soybeans than corn. We’ve established that,” Plumblee said.
A row cleaner is a basic attachment to the planter that removes any residue or trash the obstructs the planter’s ability to do its job. Plumblee said row cleaners are used to promote good seed to soil contact.
“Historically, with some of the options that we have had, they have been a little difficult to set up, especially on rolling topography. In the older systems, it took a lot of effort and time to go back and keep changing the settings. In some of these newer technologies, it made that much easier,” he noted.
Plumblee said row cleaners need to be specific to each operation to provide maximum benefits and there is limited yield response to adding a row cleaner, unless you are planting into heavy residue, a cover crop, or other scenario where the planter is not able to accurately plant the seed into the ground.
Plumblee said there have been more recent advancements in planter closing wheels than in the other planter technologies. He said the technology and options are broad with many different combinations and styles of closing wheels.
“The goal with a closing wheel is to close the seed furrow, maximize or increase seed to soil contact, remove any air pockets that we might have around that seed, and most importantly, we don’t want to manipulate where the seed was originally placed,” Plumblee said.
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