As planters are “getting after it” across the country, many people have been upgrading their old toolbars with new precision, high-speed equipment. These upgrades have drastically changed the planting game for row-crop farmers. Now you can have your cake — with 99.9% accuracy — and eat it, too — up to a 10 miles per hour planting speed.
How many acres you can cover in a given period of time is one thing, but doing it with super-high accuracy and perfect planting depth was unheard of 10 years ago. These new planting technologies have changed planting row crops going forward, but what about cereals, legumes, and grasses? Have these small-seed crops been left in the high-speed planter’s dust?
Box drills remain
We haven’t seen a lot of changes with box drills over the years. All drills essentially still work in somewhat the same fashion. Some farmers will still broadcast their seed and drag or disk it in just to get across acres faster. Both drilling and broadcasting remain effective ways to seed, but we have had a few new players and innovations enter the market in the past few years that not everyone has heard about.
One of the simplest innovations in most box-type drills has been improved down pressure settings. Some companies use different springs while others are now pneumatic. Either of these enables the double-disc drill to cut through the heavy residue left from today’s high-yielding crops. This saves the need for the additional coulter in previous no-till units. Of course, it is important to be able to get through the residue while maintaining a proper planting depth. I encourage you to take a look at the new designs of the same older drill you currently run, and most likely, you will be impressed.
For those of you who still like to broadcast your seed, the rising popularity of vertical tillage and high-speed disks has drastically improved germination rates. Many farmers can now plant lower rates — closer to that of a grain drill — and still get a great stand. This is mainly due to the fact that both of these units are able to run at shallow depths. Certain high-speed disks can run as shallow as 1 inch, level the surface, and still move all of the soil to fully incorporate the seed and firm up the seedbed with the weight of the rear rollers.
The latest and newest player is the air seeder. I’m not talking about the large 80-foot air drills for the North. I’m referring to the air seeders that can be mounted on other implements and can seed rates as low as 3 pounds to the acre.
The small air seeders can be mounted on vertical tillage units, rolling harrows, and high-speed disks. Some companies even have a thatch drill designed to lightly cover or scratch in grass seeds. These units have amazing accuracy and can cover widths up to 60 feet. Several of the newer brands are from Europe, where they have been used for years. They are just new to North America. One popular brand is from a Canadian manufacturer.
The hoppers on these units can be loaded with a seed tender and have one or two metering rolls that measure the seed coming out. Once they are calibrated, they are the most accurate seeding tool I’ve seen for small grass and legume seeds. Another use for these units can also be to incorporate pop-up fertilizer. We have mounted these units on planters and also used them on high-speed disks to incorporate the fertilizer or micronutrients in one pass. Farmers are interested in saving trips wherever they can, and this is one way to do it.
I have seen firsthand how helpful and handy air seeders can be. You’re not necessarily reinventing the wheel but adding another wheel to the tools that you already have. With the price of equipment continuing to go up, I think it’s important to make sure that you can fully utilize each piece of equipment that you own — maybe even cut down on the total number as well. Take a look at some of the new add-ons, and I think you will be impressed just as I have been.
Have a great spring planting season!