“The planter of the future is in your shed now,” says Adam Bjerketvedt.
The Hancock farmer and president of Precision Ag 360 sees what new components can do for a planter that has proven its reliability and capability under various tillage practices, soils and topography. Rather than trading an older planter in, upgrades with cutting-edge technology provide a like-new planter that’s ready to roll.
First on Bjerketvedt’s list when it comes to retrofitting is installing a system to monitor gauge wheel weight while planting. Reason? Downward pressure, either too heavy or too light, affects corn root structure. Too much weight on row units, and corn roots will struggle to grow in compacted soil. Too light and seeds are sown too close to the surface, causing uneven emergence.
MULTISEEDING: This 16-row, 30-inch JD 1770 originally was a box planter. Bjerketvedt’s shop converted it to a multihybrid planter. Shop mechanics added a bracket on the main frame to hold recycled refuge tanks for carrying seed, and stripped out old wiring and installed new electronics.
Proper seed depth for conditions is key
Ensuring proper seed depth according to conditions offers the biggest payback, Bjerketvedt says. He saw the results in yields last year after conducting his own trial. Using a planter with Precision Ag’s DeltaForce system, Bjerketvedt and his crew were able to apply various levels of downward pressure on the gauge wheels to evaluate the impact of weight. In this test plot, they replicated it twice, setting the system at four set points — 0, 125, 250 and 375 pounds of down force. A sensor in each planter row measures the amount of down force that the gauge wheels are carrying.
“The DeltaForce system controls each row, based on this scale sensor,” he says. “This scale talks to a module that controls a pulse-width-modulation valve on the hydraulic cylinder, and adjusts five times per second to make sure the right amount of weight is being applied.” When looking at field-planting maps, you can see set points. Those indicate the amount of weight carried on the gauge wheel as you plant each row — they are not a planter average.
After harvest, Bjerketvedt compared the field map showing downward pressures with the yield map. Overall, the test plot was set up for solid yields, he notes. Plus, he had one major factor in his favor at that time: Two hours after planting, it rained.
“The results were truly shocking,” he says. “Where the crop had an extra 375 pounds down, it yielded 247 bushels. It’s hard to beat that yield. However, where the down force was correct [around 100 pounds last spring], it yielded 258 bushels — 11 bushels better.”
ADDED FLEXIBIILTY: This 16-row, 22-inch vertical fold three-point planter came in for routine inspection and had a central commodity system added. To keep wiring clean and off the frame from pinch points, shop mechanics added a quarter-inch rod to serve as a wire bracket.
In hindsight, one thing Bjerketvedt says he should have done was to have checked the seed bed sidewalls after planting. Typically, he starts with 80 to 100 pounds of excess planter and adjusts, depending on soil moisture.
“I should have tested how the soil felt on sidewalls to see how hard it was compacted,” he says. “For most farmers, it’s an art — or more of a feeling of how it should be.” He is thinking about getting a penetrometer or a similar tool this year to measure compaction.
Multihybrid boxes, data collection next
Next on Bjerketvedt’s list with planter upgrades are multihybrid boxes and data collection. Again, with Precision Planting’s equipment — vSet select — two hybrids can be planted in the same row in the same pass, allowing you to plant varieties depending on conditions.
In another trial he conducted last year, Bjerketvedt planted test blocks, using defensive and offense corn hybrids based on field conditions in a corn-on-corn field. In one test block, he saw a 4-bushel difference in defensive corn, planted in high production ground. He saw a 12-bushel increase in offensive corn planted in an area that, in the past, had been marginal ground.
DATA TELL ALL: Good data and field maps help with the decision-making process when evaluating planter performance and agronomic decisions.
This was the first year that Bjerketvedt planted with multihybrid technology, so the effort provided him the opportunity to test the hardware himself before nailing down the placement for each hybrid.
“With multihybrid planting in the future, data collection will be a major component,” he says. “The more data you have, the more you’ll be able to match hybrids to conditions.”
When making hybrid yield maps, Bjerketvedt says at a minimum you should have yield maps, soil zone data and organic matter data for the field.
“If you lay those three things down, along with elevation and moisture, you are going to have a powerful base map to allocate the right hybrids in those zones and catch yield increases,” he says. “The stage is set to begin the learning curve to get hybrid placement right.”