We use precision ag technology in all of our field operations including planting, tillage, fertilizing, and harvest. Precision agriculture begins with the use of GPS. Our equipment is guided through fields via satellite signals with pinpoint accuracy. The tractors drive themselves in perfectly spaced, repeatable paths across the farm. That is pretty cool on its own, but driving is just the tip of the iceberg. A piece of equipment knowing its exact location opens up the ability to utilize other technologies to improve yields and profits while placing inputs precisely.
Other than the Capstan N-Ject system on our 2510H applicator all our precision ag equipment to date has been purchased from John Deere. Even the Capstan is run by a John Deere monitor and rate controller. But we’ve just made a significant purchase from another company to upgrade our planter which is why I title this post Precision Decision. We have just recently purchased and installed Precision Planting’s hydraulic downforce system called DeltaForce.
Precision Planting has been offering aftermarket planter upgrades for quite a while, but until now we haven’t considered buying any. Our John Deere planter equipped as it came from the factory is a fine planter as were our other JD planters in the past. It planted a record corn and popcorn crop for us last season. We just think there are a few things we can do to make this planter even better, and DeltaForce is our first step. You can’t get better by never changing, right?
Before installing the hydraulic downforce our planter was equipped with an airbag system for downforce. A bag on each row supplied downforce to each row unit. Downforce is important for maintaining correct seeding depth over varying terrain. From the factory our planter had five weigh pins that would communicate a downforce reading to the planter monitor. These five monitored rows would be used to monitor all 24 rows of the planter. Over the last few seasons I began to think this wasn’t enough. And as we transition to more no-till and cover crops our planting conditions can get a little trickier than a cleanly tilled field. On one 250 acre farm we rent we go from black soil to sand ridges on almost every pass across the field. Airbags don’t react super fast to changing conditions. This new hydraulic system will. In fact it will take 200 readings every second and make adjustments to keep the proper amount of downforce. It can also lift up and take weight off of a row unit. That is a capability we did not have before. And because we use the optional, large 3 bushel boxes on every row there are times when those boxes are completely full and we don’t really to push down at all. I was recently at a planter clinic where it was mentioned that you might only need to push up on a row unit in an “extreme” condition like running 3 bushel boxes through sand. Hello! We get into that situation here!
Another improvement is with those weigh pins. We now have 24 “Smart Pins.” One on every row that is communicating with the monitor instead of 5 pins trying to tell me what the other 19 rows are doing. That in combination with the mapping occurring on my iPad in Precision’s Fieldview app is where things get interesting. Now I will have a row by row GPS map of every single row’s performance. As we add more precision ag equipment we are looking at ever higher resolution data to make our management decisions. We are getting down to making decisions and adjusting the amount of inputs we apply based on increasingly granular data. So we didn’t buy the new downforce just for the downforce. We think Precision is doing some better mapping than Deere can. Actually Deere now has a very similar mapping ability, but it comes with some associated fees. The iPad mapping from Precision costs me nothing in yearly subscriptions.
The cool thing about Precision Planting is now that we have DeltaForce we are already setup for their other products I’m interested in purchasing. The wiring harness that controls DeltaForce is ready to have their VDrive electric drive seed meters plugged in. The same goes for the SpeedTube. Next year we will very likely have VDrive and maybe even the SpeedTube. Electric drives will, much like DeltaForce’s row to row control, give me the ability to vary seeding rates on every single row. Right now we have a hydraulic variable rate drive split in two. So the twelve rows on each side of the planter can run different rates based off maps I created to tailor seeding rates to specific management zones. It works pretty well, but the planter is only capable of two rates. And each of those are 30 feet wide. By going to electric drive all 24 rows will be able to run a different rate if needed. This means our variable rate prescriptions can be much more fine tuned.
Here we are from about 9am to 6pm installing the system condensed into a 47 second video!
Why Not Stick with Deere?
We really like John Deere. That’s no secret if you’ve followed me for very long. John Deere now has an electric drive planter called ExactEmerge. I think they’ve done a great job with that planter. I’d like to have one. Right now I do not want to buy one. The list price of an ExactEmerge the same width as our current planter is over $287,000. You might be able to knock off $20,000 or more for the actual purchase price. To trade our current planter on that one would be a huge trade in difference. The planter we have now was $160,000 brand new in 2012. It’s got three seasons on it now. We’d like to think it’s worth around $100,000. I can upgrade our planter with all the equivalent equipment to make it like an ExactEmerge through Precision Planting for less than half of what the trade difference would be for a new planter. But there’s another catch. For that price I’ve also got DeltaForce installed along with electric drives. The ExactEmerge will still be running air bags at that $287,000. You can now order hydraulic downforce from Dawn on your Deere planter. The cost is very similar to Precision’s system. So add that to the new JD planter price. Part of the price difference also comes from only being able to buy an ExactEmerge as a central fill planter. Central fill is where there are large seed tanks at the center of the planter instead of individual boxes like we have now. The last time I checked central fill cost about $18,000. We have decided we want to stay with the current configuration.
One other option we weighed was buying a new John Deere planter setup exactly like the one we have now. There are minor improvements to the row unit shanks and other items, but there is one improvement we do like a lot. Because we plant two types of corn, popcorn, soybeans for seed production, and test plots we have to clean out our planter often to be sure we are harvesting a pure product. Part of the new design on the latest planters allows for removing the seed plates from the meter without removing the seed boxes. This would save us a fair amount of time cleaning and switching plates out when changing crops. Right now we have to remove the big 3 bushel boxes every time we need to change plates. But buying that planter didn’t pencil out too well either if we new we were going to put hydraulic downforce and electric drive on anyway. We’d be buying a brand new planter and discarding a whole lot of brand new parts just to put the Precision stuff on. For what it would cost we can keep removing our seed boxes for a while longer. We’re used to doing it, and now that we’ve set up a vac system to clean out the seed meters we don’t remove the boxes nearly as often as in the past.
Back to that ability of the tractor to steer itself by satellite. Precision Planting’s box doesn’t do that. That will still come from Deere on our farm. Don’t worry. We’re still pretty green around here.
Tell me what you think of our new tech in a comment!