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Precision Seeding Can Increase Efficiencies and Savings

From Cotton Grower Magazine – January 2015

 

It’s time to add seeding to the list of precision operations.

A series of field studies conducted at Auburn University have been examining the advantages and potential of precision seeding. Dr. John Fulton, who has been leading the studies, says the results to date have been very promising.

“If I’m going to spend a significant portion of my investment for seed on the front end, I want to make sure my planter is operating at peak performance – not only when I put it in the ground on day one, but also several days later when I finish,” said Fulton, who recently joined Ohio State University as associate professor of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering after more than a decade on the Auburn faculty.

The studies – which will continue in 2015 under Fulton’s guidance – have focused on ways to leverage planting technologies and information to help develop options for greater efficiencies and savings at planting for cotton and corn.

“On some of our research plots, we compared a hill drop scenario to singulating cotton seed to see if we were still giving ourselves a high emergence percentage,” stated Fulton. “We were still getting from 88 to 95 percent emergence from singulation instead of hill drop. And there’s a savings to that.

“We feel there’s a lot of benefit to the singulation technology, especially with the high-end displays that farmers can put in their cabs to make sure the planter is operating at peak performance,” he added. “We can also capture population and spacing information that growers can use initially or for analysis at the end of the season.”

Some of the more promising potential to precision seeding comes from the evaluation of depth and downforce. Several manufacturers have added load cells to their planter row units to measure the force being placed on the furrow during planting. Fulton’s studies are helping determine the value a grower may receive from his investment in these technologies.

“We know that potentially, especially in wet or dry years, that the planter may have too much or not enough downforce to place the seed at a nominal half inch for cotton,” said Fulton. “If it’s a dry year and depth gets shallow, growers could see high mortality because the seed may sprout and dry out. And, in super wet years, growers may be unknowingly planting too deep because of the conditions, which could hinder emergence and also lead to a high mortality rate.

“In the South, we have high variability in our soils, particularly in texture. And even within the soils, we see a lot of variability with moisture content at planting,” he continued. “If we have the active downforce and if the next generation of technology is going to actively control seeding depth, we want to be able to couple those together.”

Fulton sees two potential scenarios for growers.

Under dry planting conditions, an on-board moisture sensor can be used to detect soil moisture on the go. That information allows the planter to adjust the planting depth accordingly and place the seed at or closer to the moisture to help provide uniform emergence.

In the second option, the grower chooses a uniform planting depth for all seed and calibrates the planter to automatically adjust to soil conditions throughout the field. The planter then automatically controls depth and downforce in each row to place all seed at the selected depth.

“We know there will be moisture and texture differences throughout most fields,” pointed out Fulton. “We want to allow the planter to automatically adjust according to what a grower has programmed into the display in order to give the seed the best chance.

“We’re not just programming population. I want to see growers put in a depth for each variety planted. Then the planter – regardless of its size – manages the settings to the best of its ability.”

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