So I will admit right out of the gate that I think the idea of the high-speed planter is a little too romantic. As I look around the area that I call home, the idea that we can pull a planter through the field at ten mph seems insane. Sure in some areas the ground is flat enough that if you have enough ponies, and it’s smooth enough to stay in the seat, it could be possible, but that is the reality on just a few acres, certainly not the majority. So then, why has there been so much money spent on research, mergers, acquisitions, and so on to get this technology out there?
For most of us, we need to approach high-speed planters and what they can do as a dissected technology. We need to look at the parts individually and what they can do for us. Then we can begin to add them into a platform that compounds value. So as we look at high-speed planters, they need to have a handful of components to truly qualify. Hydraulic downforce, a specially engineered seed meter, electric meter drive, a speed tube that carries the seed down at a rate faster than gravity, and a computer on each row to control all of this separately from other rows. And to be honest, within all of those pieces is quite an investment. But at the same time, I think there is a lot of opportunity for return. It comes down to two lines of thought…
Planting Quality: Regardless of what speed we plant at, I will say that if it’s over four mph, there’s room for improvement in the job that we do. Controlling the quality of the ride with hydraulic downforce is essential. If the row unit is bouncing, then our meter can’t do its job properly. Seeding depth is inconsistent, which leads to uneven emergence. The performance of the seed meter suffers as well from row unit bounce. The seed meter itself needs to also be specific for this application. How the seed is picked up and released when a meter is turning at 70 or more rpm is a real issue. And for that matter, asking chains, shafts, or cables to perform not only consistently, but flawlessly at those speeds is unrealistic. Then finally, you have the seed delivery tube. As we talk about these speeds, we have to have better technology to eliminate bounce and accurately space. Otherwise, the work we did at the seed meter is all for nothing.
And here’s the thing about planting quality. Each of those pieces added one at a time will make huge improvements in your stand, and ultimately yield. We can talk about a technology plan to upgrade you over the next 2-4 years to get this on your planter and get you all of these great benefits. But, I don’t think that’s where the story ends with the high-speed planter.
Asset Management: This is your take home for the day. All of the benefits of the components will make you have better yields and a more consistent crop, but the real secret to high-speed planting is the same thing that will be the key to profitability for many of us. Managing our equipment costs.
Over the last eight years, we have seen the size of planters explode. As steering systems improved, we went from a 12-row planter being the norm, to a 24-row planter being the standard. With that came a massive increase in planter costs. A new 12-row planter is 20% less than a new 16-row, and less than half the cost of a new-24 row. Then we have the horsepower to pull it. There has been a significant increase in hp and cost of our power unit to pull these bigger planters. So think of the high-speed planter as a cost management measure. If I can pull a 16-row planter at seven mph with a 300 hp tractor, there is a lot less money spent to plant the same acres per day. Of course, we have all the benefits of planting performance; or for operations that are growing, can we do the same thing to a 24-row planter and save the costs of a second planter tractor and planter?
So to wrap this up and put a bow on things, we need to quit thinking of high-speed planters as a tool just designed to cover more acres per day. I want us to go back to the drawing board and think about if going back down a size in planters would let us get back to the basics. Could we take a good used smaller planter, put less money into it and have more. And could that also let us go back to some other methods for starter placement? It is all an idea my team will be challenging you with this winter.