At Precision Planting’s annual winter conference, Jason Webster challenged farmers to challenge the status quo.
“‘We have always done it that way.’ Those are the seven most expensive words in the business,” he said to more than 500 growers at the event in Tremont, Illinois. As the director of Precision Planting’s farming test site – the Precision Technology Institute – Webster has heard that line a few times from farmers who come out to test the latest technology. It’s a line farmers might use again when they see two of the newest products from Precision Planting – FurrowForce and SmartDepth.
FurrowForce is a completely new closing system for planters, and SmartDepth automatically changes planting depth as a planter moves through a field. Just like Precision Planting has done since the company launched in 1993, these products challenge the status quo of how planter components should work and how effective they should be.
Did you know there are more than 6,250 options for closing wheels when you factor in the number of unique wheel types (25), the number of mounting positions (2), and the number of force settings (5)? (The math there is 25×25×2×5, according to Matt Bennett who researched and crunched the numbers.)
Why are there so many? “Because we’re still searching for what’s right,” says Bennett.
For the last five years, Precision Planting has been included in that quest, conducting research trials to see which closing systems work best under different conditions. The results have been inconsistent, which led Precision Planting to switch from researching existing systems to product development.
“We benchmarked today’s systems to see what action they are doing, where they are successful, and where they struggle,” says Jason Stoller. What the team found was that most closing systems in the market focus on closing the trench, but there’s not a good system to determine how much force is needed or manage soil density across varying conditions. That’s what FurrowForce aims to solve.
“FurrowForce pinches the furrow closed and then stitches the soil, which is different from the traditional practice of forcing the soil downward,” says Stoller. “The system closes the trench for improved emergence in tough, no-till environments as well as manages soil density to preserve moisture in looser soils. FurrowForce automatically adjusts to changing conditions in the field, row by row.”
To accomplish this, FurrowForce has two stages. First, notched wheels close the furrow by shifting the soil inward to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact. Second, stitch wheels firm the soil around the seed to the proper density in order to maintain moisture in the soil. A closing load sensor links the two stages together, sensing weight carried by the stitch wheels and providing visibility to the closing performance on Precision Planting’s 20|20 display. The display will show the closing margin as well as a good closing percentage. A control module on each row, complete with a pneumatic air bag, automatically adjusts the force applied to that row.
In 2018, FurrowForce was tested on 12 planters in five states as well as Australia and Argentina. Here are a few highlights from that research, specifically for corn:
- A no-till challenging field had a 7.8-bushel-per-acre advantage with FurrowForce compared with an OEM configuration.
- A no-till mildly challenging field had a 5.2-bushel-per-acre advantage.
- A conventional till field had a 6.7-bushel-per-acre advantage.
For 2019, FurrowForce will go into beta testing with a limited number of growers.
There’s always been a correlation between soil moisture, planting depth, and germination. However, until recently, farmers didn’t have a good way to measure soil moisture and adjust planting depth to achieve more even germination and then emergence. That is, until SmartFirmer and SmartDepth.
Introduced in 2018, SmartFirmer measures available moisture as well as organic matter, residue, and soil temperature in the furrow. SmartDepth takes the information on moisture availability and automatically adjusts planting depth.
To see what this would look like in practice, consider a test field in Mississippi where a local farmer was using a planter equipped with SmartFirmer but not SmartDepth. SmartFirmer indicated that moisture wasn’t sufficient at the initial planting depth, so the farmer lowered each row unit ½ an inch. That move resulted in a 16-bushel-per-acre advantage over the initial planting depth.
For that example, the farmer had to get out of his cab and manually adjust each row unit. With SmartDepth, the T-handle that adjusts planting depth is swapped out for a meter. In the cab, farmers plug into 20|20 their minimum depth, maximum depth, and target moisture. From there, the planter will automatically adjust, row-by-row as it moves through a field. Or if growers prefer, they have the option to adjust each row manually.
Like FurrowForce, SmartDepth will go into beta testing for 2019.
Precision Planting continues to update its 20|20 display to improve functionality as well as add features. For 2019, growers will be able to connect to wifi in the cab through a mobile hotspot, allowing them to view background satellite imagery behind their planting, harvest, or sidedress maps. It also enables software updates to be made without a USB stick to transfer the software.
A new 20|20 Connect mobile app gives farmers the ability to perform frequently used functions, such as diagnostics and health checks, from outside the cab. “When an operator has fixed an issue on the planter, they need assurance that the system is plugged in and functioning correctly before getting into the cab,” says Ryan Allgaier. “With the 20|20 Connect app, a grower can now command the meter to turn and verify that all components are detected from their mobile device before going back to the cab.”