After a busier fall farm show/travel season than normal even by our own standards, PrecisionAg® Professional caught up with The Ohio State University professor Dr. John Fulton to talk about his department’s research into advanced planting technology.
PrecisionAg Professional: What is OSU working on currently around planter tech?
Dr. John Fulton: It’s four areas where we’re really spending the bulk of our efforts. Variable-rate seeding and how to properly implement continues to be of high interest. Number two is active downforce technology. That has been the number one planter tech question over the summer and early fall: “Should I invest in active downforce technology?” Third is multi- or dual-hybrid planting technology. Finally, assessment and management of pinch-row compaction.
PAPro: More specifically, what types of management practices related to spring planting are you guys honing in on?
JF: We’ve been evaluating the value of active downforce technologies, how to correctly setup to maximize yield for field variations during planting, and what is the return-on-investment (ROI) to the grower. We’ve been conducting studies on high speed planting and pinch-row compaction studies being led by Dr. Scott Shearer and Andrew Klopfenstein. Also, there has been high interest in multi-hybrid and dual-hybrid placement of corn and soybeans. And we’re also working on variable-rate (VR) seeding for corn and soybeans and quickly growing our on-farm research effort to help farmers answer questions around implementation and value. Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins is providing team leadership on the on-farm VR seeding research.
PAPro: Tell me a little more about pinch-row compaction? At least in my experiences that’s not a term that comes up often when talking with growers or service providers.
JF: Well, there is very limited research in the area of soil compaction worldwide, but today’s central fill planters carry a lot of weight in the central part of the planter. You couple that with the growers’ interest in carrying starter fertilizer on that planter in the central portion. The result can be what is termed pinch-row compaction. That can impact emergence, crop development, and possibly yield on those centrally located rows. The work that Dr. (Scott) Shearer and Andrew Klopfenstein are spearheading is around quantifying the potential impact of pinch-row compaction, including the temporal effort of differences in planting season conditions. In this research, we are trying to understand the effect of the tractor along with wheels, tracks, or a combination. Again, the question is value to the farmer to purchase components like tracks over wheels, but also how to properly setup the tractor and planter to minimize compaction at planting while understanding the spatial impact considering the soil variation in many Ohio fields.
PAPro: What about variable-rate seeding?
JF: Two things that come to mind for VR seeding. First, how do we develop representative management zones on a field-by-field basis. We are conducting work on ways to build zones that characterize field variability for Ohio fields and make sense for implementing VR seeding. Second, characterization of seeding zones provides the spatial component to where the change rates are, but then next important step is attaching the (seeding) rates. We know there’s a lot of variables that influence that decision, so we’re conducting on-farm research that helps both the growers and OSU define zones. Then beyond the zones, to determine the optimum rate that should be attached to those zones. Just by conducting these on-farm studies, we have learned adjustments were needed to both the zones and seeding rates. So good information helps farmers move their VR seeding program forward to maximize profit.
PAPro: Any thoughts on the Beck’s Hybrids Multi-Row Width, Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter?
JF: Becks has built a pretty cool planter for supporting plot and small acreage research. We have been doing similar work over the past few years. You consider the technology being used here at Ohio State, it’s the same technology that was used to build the new Beck’s planter they unveiled at Becknology days. We’ve been using the dual-hybrid technology, specifically the Precision Planting vSet Select, for 3 years. I’d say that particular planter is well-suited for doing research while improving the efficiency of different planting studies such as spacing, rate, and hybrid placement. You won’t see many planters like that out working fields when you’re driving down the road this spring. It’s a great concept and enhances R&D capabilities by providing tremendous flexibility to conduct strip trials and plot work without having to stop as much to change settings or seed.
PAPro: Besides planter speed, it seems like when we discuss planter technology, planter active downforce is something a lot of growers are looking at today.
JF: Absolutely. There have been a lot of questions this summer from growers: Should I be adding active downforce to their planters? And, what is the expected ROI? While active downforce technology has been around, there are still many planters using mechanical springs for downforce management. Today, there are both pneumatic and airbag-type downforce kits, but hydraulic-based downforce technology is becoming preferred with companies like Precision Planting, Ag Leader, and Dawn providing solutions. Weight distribution across planter bars can vary, so this technology can ensure similar gauge wheel load across the entire planter bar, keeping the planter row-unit engaged with the soil while minimizing bounce. Having a solution to apply the proper amount of downforce, or more specifically to gauge wheel load, allows each row unit to maintain good ground contact, minimize bounce, and keep seeding depth consistent. You also have the capability to adjust the amount of downforce in real-time, adjusting to variations in soil and field characteristics. The result is consistent seed depth placement which helps to
promote uniformity of emergence spatially acorss fields.
PAPro: Any other thoughts to share?
JF: I think our real focus here at Ohio State is on field execution to ensure seed is placed accurately spatially across fields, including executing prescriptions and seeding plans today. We always say we’ve got one shot at getting planting right. Once that planter’s covered a field, your yield potential is set from the planter’s perspective. Mistakes can be costly considering seed investment today. Once it’s done you can’t go back and make corrections other than replant. Even from a prescription perspective, I want to be able to put a prescription in the tractor display and execute it as precisely as possible. Service providers offering seeding prescriptions to growers should be working towards making sure prescriptions are created so they properly place seed based on the in-field variability. Properly implemented seeding prescriptions can require time and learning on a field-by-field basis and, in some cases it takes several years to develop accurate seed prescriptions. Our research experience says the seeding prescription in Year One may not be absolute — it’s a learning process to be able to create zones and tie rates to that for a specific field. With the right data and agronomic knowledge, one might be able to properly create seeding zones in Year One. An evaluation plan is needed to ensure zones are properly created for a field, and the optimum rate attached to the zone is correct. Planter technology has enabled farmers and their trusted advisers to implement on-farm research and evaluation studies to fine-tune seeding prescriptions.