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Measuring Planter Downtime

Measuring Planter Downtime

Idle equipment has a cost, but optimum planting performance should be your aim.

As the old adage goes, "Time is money." Many growers likely agree with this, as it can be argued that too much idle time (for whatever reason) during key times of the year can have a direct impact on your bottom line.

But is there a clear way to put a precise dollar figure on the cost of this downtime? This is open to debate. Finding the answer requires taking a variety of factors into consideration.

"Places that have a relatively short or tight planting window can have high costs associated with downtime," says Kevin Dhuyvetter, a professor and Extension state leader at Kansas State University. "However, regions that have a fairly wide planting window will not be as sensitive to delays."

CALCULATIONS: Planter efficiency involves measuring a lot of factors.

Dhuyvetter says a number of variables need to go into calculating downtime costs, just like there are many variables at play when trying to have a successful planting cycle from year to year. He cites, for example, a comparison between your planter capacity and your acres to plant as one of the things that should be considered.

"A producer with excess capacity, as measured by acres per row, will be impacted less by an hour of downtime than a producer that has lower planter capacity," Dhuyvetter says. 

Costs important

Quantifying the cost of an hour of downtime is possible if you're able to pinpoint the "optimal planting window," which is the relationship between your expected yield and ideal planting days. However, the relationship between planting days and actual yield can vary considerably from year to year.

"If I'm down for a day and my planting season goes one day longer than optimal, this could have a relatively high cost. However, in some years being delayed might actually help me given how the weather plays out later in the year," Dhuyvetter says.

"Bottom line, it's very difficult to get an accurate cost, as it depends on so many things that can — and will — vary tremendously from year to year," he continues.

Determining a universally accepted cost-per-hour figure for planter downtime may be difficult. This doesn't mean, however, you should forget about the "costs" you will incur if your planter isn't working properly, or not working at all.

"Seed is expensive, so seeds need to be planted properly, accurately and timely; otherwise, you could experience lower yields," says John Nowatzki, an agricultural machine systems specialist at North Dakota State University. "Given this, downtime and delaying the planting and growing cycle are connected. ... Delays equal lost dollars in the long run."

As an example, Nowatzki cites a study that showed a 1% loss in yield at harvesttime for every day wheat planting was delayed. He acknowledges these results wouldn't hold true for all crops, but thought it might be most relevant when looking at the possible impact that delays would have on corn yields.

But Dhuyvetter also cautions growers against creating their own problems by getting too caught up in the time-is-money approach to farming, because quicker isn't always better.

"A producer that tries to get their crop planted as fast as possible might actually be worse off than getting it done in the right amount of days, especially if they drive too fast and end up with very poor stands," says Dhuyvetter. 

 - Mark Yontz writes from Urbandale, Iowa.

 - Solution Center is independently produced by Farm Futures through support from SureStart® herbicide. For more information, visit

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