You can tell whether someone is using one of the options that allows for automatic shut-off when planting soybeans or corn, just by walking their end rows. If no main rows extend into the end rows, except maybe here and there,, they likely have row shut-offs installed on the planter.
We recently surveyed our long list of past Master Farmers. Those surveys are coming back, and technology was one of the primary things we asked them about. Automatic row shut offs is one of the technologies that is starting to show up on several of their farm operations.
The feature saves in two ways: seed cost and avoiding high populations on end rows.
Some experts estimate it can save as much as 3% in seed cost. This may be higher if you have point rows in a lot of fields, but even in rectangular or square fields, avoiding going into the end rows saves seed. If you plant 32,000 seeds per acre and save 3%, that's 960 kernels. Seed averages close to $3 per 1,000 seeds. So you're saving nearly $3 per acre in seed corn costs alone. If you raise 1,000 acres of corn, that's $3,000.
The other savings is from avoiding high populations on end rows with hybrids that may not be ready to stand high populations yet. If you typically overlap 6 rows and cut yield by 30% or more, that can add up to several dollars per field in a hurry.
The result is that while automatic shut-offs require an investment, it typically pays for itself over a shorter period than many other equipment investments, either now or in the past. Most experts say it's second only to auto-boom section control on sprayers as far as how quickly you can directly pay off the investment in purchasing and installing new technology on your planter.