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Agriculture Technology Podcast 164: Planter Attachments

31 Mar 2022

Any farmer knows - there are a lot of attachments out there for your planter. In fact, you could break the bank trying to get the latest and greatest enhancements for planting season.

This week's episode is meant to serve as a guide - to help talk through considerations when evaluating what needs you might have when it comes to your planter.

What's your problem? Is there a solution on the market that can solve that problem? Can we gain better seed placement? Can we gain a better plant stand or emerged stand? Can we increase our yields? Can we decrease our costs?

Tune in as Tony talks through planter attachments solutions.


You can find past podcast episodes by visiting our Podcast website

Have precision ag questions? We have the answers. Find a specific channel dedicated to answering your precision technology questions: Precision Ag Answers. 

View the entire transcript here:

Tony Kramer: There's a lot of different attachments, trinkets, whatever you want to refer to them as. You can break the bank hanging things on your planter. There's a lot of different things front to back, side to side, lot of different companies out there. Now, keep in mind, this podcast is not meant to refer you one way or another. It's just some of the things to think about when we're looking into planter attachments.

The biggest thing, when it comes to every single one of these that I'm going to go through, is finding a reason. Do we have a problem. Is there an attachment on the market that can solve that problem? Can we gain better seed placement? Can we gain better plant stand or emerged stand? Can we increase our yields? Can we decrease our cost? There's a lot of things.

The other thing that you always have to think about is, because it works for the guy in the county next to you doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work on your operation or your soil types or for your operation in how you plant. Every farmer runs their planter a different way. Every operator drives the tractor a little bit different. Everybody does things just a little bit different, and that, of course, is the competitive advantage that you have on your operation. We don't want to take that away.

It's your operation and you get to decide how you operate, how you function, and what you do with your planter. Keeping all of that in mind, I'm just going to go through a few different components of the planter, front to back, top to bottom on what you can do or things you need to think about when maybe pondering the thoughts or pondering the ideas of making changes or additions to your planter.

The first one I want to start out with, it's been around for a little while. We've made changes over the years and, of course, moving into more efficient planters, faster planters, things like that. One thing we need to think about is our downforce. Now, downforce originally started as a heavy-duty spring. Well, just original, it was just the basic springs. Then we moved into heavy-duty springs. Then we moved into the pneumatic airbag systems. Now, we have hydraulic downforce.

Again, keeping in mind what you are using your planter to do, how many acres we're covering, the type of soil conditions we're going into, the residue that we're dealing with. All of that is going to come into play. Now the biggest one to remember, if you are going to make that jump to, say, an exact emerge or comparison to that planter, hydraulic downforce is almost a must.

The faster you start going with these planters, we need that hydraulic downforce to keep that in the ground. The other benefit to hydraulic downforce is the rate at which it makes its adjustments and its changes. The pneumatic systems are much slower. They also have a lot more give and cushion to them, of course, because they have that airbag. If you are utilizing an exact emerge planter or some of the comparative competition out there, hydraulic downforce is definitely one thing you need to keep in mind when making that change or adding that to your planter.

That's the downforce. Another one is going to be frame weight distribution. John Deere offers frame weight distribution. I'm not sure if any of the other competitors offer it. Some of the things to keep in mind is it is only available on certain sizes. Of course, with the really small planters, it's not really necessary. Essentially, you're just going to be adding more weight to the planter that is not necessary.

Then we get out to some of the really, really big planters and it's not capable of doing the job it needs to do. Only available on certain sizes. Some of the things to think about, are you utilizing markers or not? Do you have some suitcase weights out on the wings? Some of that stuff offsets the frame weight distribution. Again, the frame weight distribution, the benefit of it is to put more weight out on the wings and decrease the weight on a central commodity planter, central-fill planter. Yes, there are some benefits to frame weight distribution.

Again, it's going to come down to what soil types are you working with? What kind of residue situation are you dealing with? Is weight a concern on your soil types or the time of year that you're getting in? What is your soil conditions when it is planting time? Frame weight distribution is another option, but again some things to think about if you are looking into it. The next one, I want to talk about moving down to the-- or back. I guess, downforce is on the row-unit, then we went back to the frame and now we're back to the row-unit.

Row cleaners. One of the biggest things with row cleaners, there's a ton of options out there. Now, I know that some of you don't run row cleaners at all and that's totally fine. Again, this is all based on your operation and what you're doing, but there's many different options out there. There's a stationary row cleaner, there's floating row cleaners, there's air-adjust row cleaners, there's hydraulically adjusted row cleaners, lots of different options.

There's also options when it comes to mounting points. I know there's one company out there that makes a frame-mounted row cleaner. There's other companies, most of them out there are row unit-mounted row cleaners. Look into them, look at the differences.

One of the things or some questions we get with the floating row cleaners is, do I need the depth bands? That's that silver band that goes on the outside of the row cleaners. What that does is help it float along the top of the soil. Doesn't let you go down too far. That's one of the things you need to keep in mind with row cleaners, row cleaners are not there to be a tillage pass.

We're not looking to dig up that topsoil to make a clean path. All we are doing is looking to brush aside any residue that may still be in the path of the opener discs. We don't want to deal with hair pinning in the seed trench, anything like that. We want to make sure that seed trench is clean. We can place that seed and we can close that up not having to deal with residue.

The best-case scenario, depending on your residue situation is, sometimes they're spinning, other times, they're not. Now, if you're dealing with a lot of residue, high-yielding corn, lots of residue depending on your tillage practices, maybe your row cleaners are spitting all the time because you do have a decent amount of residue on top. Lot of different things to think about there.

Again, based on your conditions, back to the different types, the floating row cleaners, we talked about the depth bands, there's pneumatically adjusted row cleaners, there's hydraulically adjusted row cleaners. One of the things that I think about is I would highly recommend some of the in-cab adjustment row cleaners. Specifically, John Deere's Easy Adjust row cleaner, super simple, completely integrated into the John Deere display. You can have presets for different residue conditions, different soil conditions. You can turn them off, raise them up all out of the way. It's all done in the cab. Some of the screw adjust, pin adjust, some of the more traditional row cleaners, those can get to be a handful when you're dealing with 24-row, 36-row, 48-row, 54-row planter. Lots of rows.Lots of screw adjust level setting happening, things like that.

The other thing with the air adjust, the John Deere Easy Adjust row cleaners, there's actually also a stationary adjustment that could be made as well. You have your range of throw with the pneumatic system, but there are also bolt holes that move on the frame. Depending on your range of row with the pneumatic system, you may need to optimize those row cleaners, you may need to actually move the bolt holes up a little bit or you might have to move them down.

That is something that you definitely need to look into. We, at the dealership, some of them, I think, or maybe all of them, come mounted from the factory. They're just put at a standard height. Of course, it's not optimized to your operation. Think about that too when you're dealing with any of the pneumatic or in-cab adjusted row cleaners.

The next one is fertilizer placement. Again, I know it's a very back and forth topic of, do I have fertilizer on my planter? Do I put it all down with pre-planting or post-planting, post-emergence? What do I do?

Of course, we have the in-furrow options. There's many different in-furrow options out there. With the exact emerge planters now, we're actually the in-furrow product behind the seed placement, that is to make sure we're not gumming up that brush belt on the front side. We're placing that fertilizer behind it. There's a lot of different options out there. I am not going to steer you one way or another, but again looking at, do we have an issue? Do we need to get in-furrow popup fertilizer? Do we need a two by two system to put down some nitrogen with the planter?

There's companies out there with a two by two by two system where we're going behind everything and putting things down 2 inches beside, 2 inches below. Lots of different options for fertilizer placement. Again, you need to make that decision on, will it benefit us? What's the problem we're looking to solve? Look into the options that are out there, lots of them there.

Another one that I wanted to discuss, and this one's a little more heavy, but seed delivery. Looking to maybe make a planter change or something like that, is the traditional seed tube. Let's just talk John Deere planters, MaxEmerge 5E or ExactEmerge. MaxEmerge 5E gives us all the benefits of electric drive planter, turn compensation, row by row shut off, all of that. SeedStar 4 gives us all of those benefits with the traditional seed tube delivery.

We are not changing the delivery of that seed, we're just changing the control of the seed meter. Now, to take that next step is, on your operation, are you questioning the seed placement? Do you want better seed placement? Do you want more accurate seed placement? That's when we move to the ExactEmerge planter.

Now, a lot of people or we have always talked about ExactEmerge as being the high-speed planter and it is, don't get me wrong. The ExactEmerge planter is a high-speed planter because it has the capabilities of planting up to 10 miles an hour and being very accurate. One of the things that you need to keep in mind is you do not have to plant at 10 miles an hour with an ExactEmerge planter. You can plant at 7.5, you can plant at 5. Now, yes, there's cost that factors into it and, is my ROI going to still be there at 7.5 miles an hour, or do I need to utilize the full 10 mile an hour capabilities of this planter?

Even if you're going, say, let's just stick with 7.5 miles an hour. You traditionally plant your corn at 4.5 to 5. Let's jump up to 7.5 miles an hour. We gain a little bit of speed, we keep the same size planter. One of the things you are still going to benefit from is the placement of that seed. When the seed bowl on an ExactEmerge planter releases that seed, we are carrying that seed all the way down to about 2 inches above the bottom of the seed trench and then we are letting go of that. With the traditional seed tube, we are letting go of the seed about 2 feet above the bottom of the seed trench.

It is in a free fall. We have no control over it at that time. That's when we deal with some seed bounce or seed roll or whatever it may be, that's the nature of seed tube delivery, traditional planters, traditional seed delivery. If seed placement, accuracy of seed placement, everything like that is a concern for you, ExactEmerge technology is something you need to look into.

Again, keeping speed in mind, we don't have to go 10 miles an hour. Can we? Absolutely. A number of years back, myself and some of my colleagues here at RDO Equipment, we did a speed trial. We had passes all the way up to 14 miles an hour with that planter and it was operating phenomenally.

Now I do not recommend to plant at 14 miles an hour, but every time, every now and then, that storm cloud is rolling in a little quicker than we think, but I still don't recommend running at that speed, but the planter is capable of doing it. That's something, again, a little bigger than some of these other attachments, changing your seed delivery or your entire row unit is more of a larger process. I still wanted to throw that one in there.

This last one here, and this was the big reason why I wanted to do this episode, every year, I get numerous questions about closing wheels. Now, everybody knows there are a ton of options for closing wheels out there, whether it's the cast closing wheel, the standard rubber closing wheel, the spike tooth, the shark tooth, the stitch ones that are essentially like a zipper closing your seed trench. There's some cage style ones, there's just so many options.

Do they all have their benefits? Absolutely, they're all designed to do certain things and to benefit you in certain ways. One of the things that I always tell people when this question comes up is, again, we go back to what are we looking to solve? What is the problem that we're dealing with? They ask me, do I go with a spike tooth or some sort of a timed tooth or whatever it may be? There's lot of different options.

Do I put a rubber wheel on one side and a spike tooth or a whatever on the other side? Again, it all comes down to your farm, your operation. How fast are you running that planter? What soil conditions are you running in? What are you looking to do? I want to take one step back and think about, what is the purpose of the closing wheel system? The sole purpose of that system on the planter is to close the seed trench and create good seed to soil contact with the seed and the soil around it.

That is the purpose of those wheels. What you need to think about or ask yourself is, are we happy? Say, you have a standard rubber cast closing wheel on right now, are you happy with how it closes the trench, what kind of seed to soil contact you're getting, what your emergence looks like? Everything like that. Are you happy with it? If that's the case, if you're happy with what you're seeing, then maybe changing up your closing wheels isn't necessarily something you need to tackle right now. Maybe there's other pieces of the planter that you could better benefit from. Now, if you're dealing with trench closure issues, if you're dealing with seed to soil contact issues, there are different types of closing wheels out there that can help you with that. Now in the next breath on that same situation, we all know that every spring is different. One spring we might be planting a little wet, the next spring we might be planting a little dry.

Each one of those different closing wheels is a different animal based on the soil conditions or moisture content in the soil. Just because it worked great one year doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work to that same level in the next year. Lot of different things.

One of the big benefits to closing wheels, and even some of these other ones too, maybe it's row cleaners, or it's your fertilizer placement, with a planter, whether you have 8 rows, 12 rows, 24 rows, 48 rows, one of the cool things you can do is just buy a few rows. Run it for the entire season. See if that, on that specific row, or maybe you got a 24-row planter, go out and buy 4 rows or 12 rows of a change that you might want to see and run it for that entire season back and forth side by side, and you'll be able to see the differences that it makes.

Maybe it doesn't make a difference. Then that way, you had only invested in half the planter versus the entire planter or things like that. That's one of the cool things about planter attachments is, buy a couple rows, try it out. Maybe it works great, and then you end up investing in the entire planter next year. Maybe it doesn't work as good as you thought it did, so you're going to try another year of trial, something like that. That is one of the biggest ones.

The other thing about closing wheels is now there's other options. I know there's some electric options, there's some pneumatic options, different things like that. The traditional spring, one of the neat things, talking specifically about the John Deere pneumatic system, that can all be adjusted right from in the cab. You have more variability in your adjustment whereas with just that T-handle spring, you essentially got five settings. You got a float, which not sure why you would use that, but you got a float setting and then you got 25 pounds, 50 pounds, 75, and 100 pounds of downforce on those closing wheels.

One of the things I always questioned customers is how often are you looking at that? How often are you making those changes? Generally, we should be looking at that just as much as we look at our downforce because anytime we change downforce, it's also going to change how that acts at the back of the planter, the back of the row-unit. We should always be looking at it. We should always be making adjustments based on our soil conditions, based on what we're seeing with trench closures, seed to soil contact, all of that stuff.

That last one was the big one that I really wanted to do this. Some of the other ones, at the beginning of the episode were just add-ins there. I wanted to make this a full episode, which we got a great episode. Hopefully, you learned something here. I will always tell you or recommend you consult your agronomist, your seed salesman, crop consultant, whoever you work with based on those crops, based on your area. Work with your professionals. Ag extension educators, they do a lot of research, a lot of studies, things like that.

Always talk to those experts in that area when it comes to your operation, your soil conditions, your climate, whatever you are dealing with.

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