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'Hybridized' Planter

Monday, January 6, 2014
filed under: Equipment

Jeff Oberholtzer isn’t happy unless he’s tinkering with something. His latest project: a “hybrid” planter.

The idea for this hybrid planter was born out of a desire to have more section control, and the fact that he’d gone through three planters in four years. Oberholtzer farms in north central North Dakota, where lately there are have been more wet days than dry. In fact, it was so wet this past year that Oberholtzer was not able to plant his sunflower — and, overall, seeded only about 30% of his cropland. That was a big change from 2012, when he was able to seed almost everything.

He knows that’s part of the risk that comes with farming: some years leave more room for tinkering than others, and 2013 just happened to be a “tinkering kind of year.” Not having any sunflower to plant or harvest obviously left the Renville County farmer — and National Sunflower Association board member — with a little extra time to tinker with his planter.

Oberholtzer invested a lot of time researching before he started modifying his new John Deere 1770 NT planter. He talked with equipment dealers and other farmers, gathering information to help him build what he envisioned as the perfect planter. Then he dug in, with the goal of providing more control while planting sunflower and saving money on fertilizer.

“Fertilizer is expensive. And it’s getting more expensive every year. I think the price has at least doubled in the past 10 years,” Oberholtzer remarks. He expects the changes he’s made to his planter will help save on fertilizer costs.

Those changes include the installation of a Pattison variable-rate section control system. Oberholtzer tied it in with his Deere GS3 screen, and that combination allows him to shut off the liquid fertilizer when he overlaps an area in a field, so there’s no waste. The rate controller is fed by a hydraulic pump. He’s found that is the best way to control the flow, from in the cab: hit the button and turn it one way or another.

The new-and-improved planter features 12 sections for seed and six sections for fertilizer, all of which can be controlled individually. “This planter will make it easier to know how much to buy. I should be able to buy the right amount right away,” Oberholtzer states.

He also changed the 24-row planter’s gauge wheels and closing wheels and added a liquid starter fertilizer system from L & D Ag Service. “I used MudSmith gauge wheels because I’ve discovered they handle mud better than ordinary gauge wheels — and mud is something we have an abundance of on our land,” Oberholtzer explains. “I also used Furrow Cruiser™ spiked closing wheels because I just think they handle better.

“On the front side, I used Martin floating trash wheels and also run John Deere bubble coulter blades. The trash wheels remove residue, and the bubble helps to cut it open. Those bubble blades help loosen the soil and cut residue better than the Tru-Vee blades alone. Those come standard on the planter and I still use them; but with adding the bubble blades, the combination I now have on this planter seems to work the best when breaking up CRP ground.”

Making all those changes wasn’t easy. “Trying to get everything to fit on the planter was tough,” Oberholtzer affirms. “Planters are not designed for a lot of add-ons. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed to work better in specific situations.”

Oberholtzer and his dad, Jerry, utilize this planter for sunflower, corn and soybeans. And while weather kept them from testing it on sunflower in 2013, Oberholtzer says it worked great when planting their corn crop. “It took some stress off the air seeder; and again, one of the biggest benefits we’ve seen is the amount of fertilizer required. I think that alone — especially in wet years — will almost pay for the [cost of the] changes.”

But before Oberholtzer starts building or modifying any implement, Jeff thinks long and hard about whether it’s worth it. “You have to think about, ‘Is it really feasible?’ Sometimes you can do things and add features, but you end up needing other technology to get them to work. At that point, it can get expensive, so you really need to take a step back and think about whether it is really feasible to do those modifications.

“If I know we’re going to use it and it will be worth the investment, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I won’t,” Oberholtzer says. “Plus, you need time to work on things. I’ve got a lot of time invested in this hybrid planter. This year was a good year for me to tweak it and make changes, because I had time. Not every year is like that.”

Oberholtzer says his planter still isn’t completely where he wants to take it. “I’m getting close, but I’m not sure I have everything exactly the way I want it yet.” Still, he’s ready for the 2014 planting season, because he’s anxious to see if all his tinkering will pay off.

While he has a list of things he might still want to modify, he knows the most important thing is to keep equipment in good working condition. So whether he makes any more significant changes or not, you can bet Jeff Oberholtzer will always, in one way or another, be working on his planter. — Jody Kerzman

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