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Optimizing Seed Placement

Friday, January 1, 2010
filed under: Planting Systems

Clint “Boomer” Patterson knows sunflower is a compensating plant. So uniform seed spacing is not quite as critical with ’flowers as it is with corn. But it is, he emphasizes, still important.

Patterson wants to give his sunflower crop every edge he can — which includes optimizing the uniformity of plant emergence, flowering date and maturation. That’s why the Bottineau, N.D., producer focuses so intently on attaining consistent seed spacing — and why he’s using the latest technology to help him achieve his objective.

In 2010 Patterson will, for the third year, be utilizing the 20/20 SeedSense™ monitor and eSet™ vacuum kit from Illinois-based Precision Planting, Inc., with his 24-row John Deere 1770NT CCS planter. The SeedSense unit provides him with real-time readings on plant population, singulation accuracy and percentages of skips and doubles. It also gives him digital readouts on down-force pressure, ground contact and “good ride” (i.e., vertical bounce). The flat eSet vacuum disks help provide superior singulation of his sunflower seeds for spacing accuracy.

“With the 20/20, we look at every seed that passes the seed tube sensor,” explains Sean Arians, dealer service associate with Precision Planting. “The population and singulation information that appears on the screen is based on counting every seed — not just taking averages. When we show seed spacing, we’re showing the actual spacing — versus a monitor that simply calculates what it ‘should be’ [based on an averaged population count].”

In addition to the down-force information supplied by the unit, the 20/20 Seed Sense measures actual weight on each gauge wheel to show how much weight is being applied to the soil. Down force can fluctuate from spot to spot within a field, Arians points out. “So by weighing what’s on those gauge wheels, we can accurately monitor and make appropriate decisions.”

Precision Planting offers two sensors. One is a row unit module (RUM) that monitors the ride of individual row units; the other is the “Smart Pin,” which is basically a load cell that replaces the standard pin in the walking gauge wheel. The Smart Pin carries a stress joint, and that’s the point at which the weight is measured. If the weight is excessive (hence contributing to compaction), SeedSense calculates the amount of weight that could be removed while still maintaining an appropriate planting depth. This can be done automatically through a automatic system called “AirForce.” (Boomer Patterson has been using the manual system, but will be switching over to AirForce for the 2010 season.)

Precision Planting meter technician Ken Dill says the eSet singulator system incorporates three buttons above the seed disk and two buttons below. “The top buttons progressively shut off a portion of the hole as the seed goes by,” he explains. “We start with approximately 30% shutoff; then 40%; and finally 50% on the last one. The two buttons on the bottom side ‘nudge up’ any loose seeds that may have a tendency to fall off the hole, putting them back up into the seed zone.

“So when we come out of the seed pool with the disk, we want to have at least one seed on [each] hole as it leaves the pool. Then, when it brings the seeds up to the singulator, the singulator will remove any doubles.”

Does sunflower’s unique seed shape present any special challenges for singulation and placement accuracy? Not really, says Dill. Since the eSet system uses a flat-hole plate instead of a pocketed disk, “it’s always a hole on a flat surface,” he observes. “We don’t run a pocket on any of our eSet disks. We can change the amount of holes that go on a disk, and we can change hole size to whatever diameter is best for the seed we are planting.”

Other than installing the appropriate seed disks, switching over from corn or another crop to sunflower involves just one quick step: swapping out a fragment extractor. “The fragment extractor pokes out any broken seeds that might be in the disk,” Dill explains. “Changing that takes only a few seconds.”

Ask Boomer Patterson what his typical ground speed is while planting sunflower, and he’ll tell you he doesn’t have one. “I go off my singulation [reading],” he replies. “Speed means nothing to me as long as the seeds are flowing out consistently.” Though he says he’d be satisfied with a singulation accuracy of 96%, he now expects 97 to 98% on his ’flowers due to his use of the Precision Planting equipment — and gets it.

The north central North Dakota producer says the 20/20 SeedSense monitor and eSet vacuum disk system together cost him about $12,000 for his 24-row planter. The investment has definitely been worth it, he adds. “This technology isn’t cheap; but on the other hand, I want the timing of my sunflower crop’s development to be even, so that the fields are uniform when it comes to applying [a rust fungicide] or spraying on insecticides at flowering,”

— Don Lilleboe

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