Every year at this time, our ACS equipment team spends countless hours and days testing seed meters. We are equipped to do so with two meter testing locations, and a mobile testing trailer. Our technicians and Field Agronomists test several hundred meters in the months of February and March. And the most common question that precedes you, the grower, entrusting us with this very important task is always some variation of the question, “Do I really need to test my meters this year?”
So the simple answer to that question is yes. But life, let alone Agronomy is never simple. Yes is an oversimplified answer to your oversimplified question. What you are really asking me is this, “Will I get some economic return on this investment of a few hundred dollars, or is it just something we do because everybody says we should do it?” That question opens up a Pandora’s Box of answers.
There are several different ways to respond to this question.
First of all, I want you to think back to last May. Mike Zwingman and I both spent a fair amount of time talking about something called the Net Effective Stand Percentage. In simple terms, instead of just looking at your Population and your Spacing quality on your planter, it digs deeper into evaluating emergence and consistency. There have been dozens, if not hundreds of studies that show the importance of even emergence on your final yield. The final population and spacing quality are both directly influenced by your seed meter, while your emergence date is influenced more by your ride quality and downforce consistency. This is an area we will be doing work with Mike’s RD department on this year to help you all better understand how these things influence our final yield here in Nebraska.
Then there is your seed. If you can tell me all of the seed sizes, weights, and shapes that you are going to plant this year and how that compares with last year, I am better equipped to answer this question. Of course, you won’t be able to answer that question because we don’t know yet. With winter production seed and things like that, you may know what you ordered, but you will not know for sure until April. Testing and tweaking that seed meter helps us ensure that it’s the most capable it can be of dealing with the changes we throw at it.
So here is your take home message of the day. You will invest over $125 per acre this year in planting between seed, labor, and machinery expenses. After land and before fertility it is your second biggest expense. I view testing your seed meters as somewhat of a hedge bet against those expenses. One acre of planting expenses is more than testing 8 meters. So depending on the size of your planter, it is equivalent to 2-4 acres of replanting, or worse yet, replanting 1 row on 14 passes. It’s not an insurance policy because it doesn’t protect you if something goes wrong in the middle of it all. It’s more like checking the air in your tires, getting an alignment, and having your tires rotated before you load up and drive to Alaska and back. It might not prevent a failure, but you sure feel better about your chances.
So the short answer to a long question is this, yes, you need to test your meters. It is a couple hundred dollars invested against a chance at thousands of dollars lost to emergence and other issues in a few months. It is one less thing we have to worry about.