Two hybrids, one planter
Last spring, multi-hybrid planter technology became a reality when Kinze introduced a new planter that can plant two different hybrids as it moves across the field. Also, Precision Planting introduced an add-on system to retrofit and convert existing planters. Only about 45 planters in the U.S. used multi-hybrid capabilities last spring, according to industry sources.
Being able to change the seed variety on the go has a key advantage. Instead of selecting an average seed variety for use across an entire field, corn hybrids and soybean varieties can be selected and automatically planted to suit different field management zones.
Currently, there are two ways to get a multi-variety planter. You can buy a new one from Kinze, which last year began selling its 4900 Multi-Hybrid model. Or you can have the v-Set Select system from Precision Planting retrofitted on your current planter.
The mechanics behind the retrofit involve putting two independently driven seed meters on each row. The seed meters are driven by electric motors and a controller in the tractor cab. The controller tells each motor when to start and stop.
This system also can vary population on the go. The seed meters sit face to face and both drop seed down the same tube, allowing for seamless transitions from one variety to the next.
Beans did best in 2015 test
SciMax, the precision ag division of MaxYield Cooperative at West Bend in northern Iowa, bought a used John Deere 12-row model 1770 NT planter and retrofitted it using the v-Set Select system. Using it on the fields of 10 different SciMax Learning Group farmers, about 1,100 acres of corn and 450 acres of soybeans were planted in 2015, says Peter Bixel, SciMax team leader.
The project, cooperating with WinField Solutions, ended up with a 5- to 7-bushel-per-acre advantage for soybeans planted with the multi-variety planter. Corn had a 3- to 8-bushel advantage. “We anticipated a response from soybeans with multi-variety planting because of the high-pH soil areas of fields, common in our Des Moines Lobe soil area of north-central and northwest Iowa,” says Bixel.
“High soil pH results in iron chlorosis, which reduces soybean yields. By placing a defensive bean variety in the high-pH areas of fields and an offensive variety in the lower-pH areas, we knew we could capitalize and get better bean yields,” Bixel adds.
On corn in 2015, the project didn’t show a big bushel increase for the multi-hybrid planting compared to the single hybrid because the yield environment was so favorable. “Our yield level last year was phenomenal,” notes Bixel. “We had good growing conditions, timely rains. The crop didn’t get overly stressed. We didn’t see a huge gap in the yield difference between the B zone and C zone of some fields. But in fields with variability, the multi-hybrid planting made a difference.”
SciMax is running the multiple planting trials again this spring, in the Emmetsburg and West Bend areas. “The key thing we learned about making multiple-variety planting work is you need to do the best job of choosing corn hybrids and soybean varieties for the zones in your fields,” says Bixel.
“This year we’ve had time to plan and work with our growers to make sure we choose the right hybrids and varieties to plant. We know we want certain offensive and defensive corn hybrids and bean varieties in fields.”
Planter technology works
SciMax has run many field trials over the years, working with fungicides, nitrogen rates and timing, soil testing, variable plant populations, etc. “Trying to maximize yield isn’t just planting the right hybrid,” says Bixel. “We’re not saying multi-hybrid planting and variable-rate seeding are the only things that get a yield increase. We’re not expecting a 20-bushel-per-acre increase just because we changed the hybrid. Rather, it’s about putting a complete, well-planned system together.”
Last year the multi-hybrid planter technology worked well. The monitor in the cab tells the planter what to plant and where to plant it, and the units switch hybrids and vary the seeding rate.
“You need to make sure the right amount of seed is loaded into the planter for each field,” says Rodney Legleiter, a SciMax team member who does the planting.
For example, you may need to put 16 bags of one hybrid in one seed hopper and eight bags of another hybrid in the other hopper. The seed needs to be weighed and put into the correct planter box.
Multi-hybrid, variable-rate planting takes more management at planting than just filling up the planter’s seed boxes. And you have to plan ahead with your seed adviser or crop consultant with maps, to figure out the field zones so you can order the correct amounts of the right seed.
Think ahead to harvest
“Multi-hybrid planting changes the complexity of planting,” says Legleiter. “You have to think ahead to harvest and consider maturities when choosing two hybrids or varieties. You don’t want them differing too much in characteristics. Maybe one hybrid has a spongy cob, and combine adjustment would become a real issue. Harvestability is a consideration when choosing seed.”
The cost is an extra $2,000 per row for a planter that lets you do multi-hybrid planting and vary the seeding rate, compared to a traditional single-hybrid planting setup that allows you to vary the population.
Bixel priced the retrofit package for his 24-row Deere planter, and it would cost about $48,000 to convert his current planter to a multi-hybrid planter.
Beck’s, the seed company, has experimented with multi-hybrid planting in the eastern Corn Belt the past few years. Through a partnership with Kinze last spring, five Beck’s customers planted with multi-hybrid planters.
By varying the hybrid planted depending on soil type, Beck’s has seen a 9.5-bushel-per-acre advantage for corn. The company has seen a yield advantage in soybeans, too. Varying bean varieties according to soil type resulted in a 3.5-bushel advantage.
With the extra cost of about $2,000 per row compared to the traditional single-hybrid setup, it works out to about $32,000 for a 16-row planter. The extra cost could be paid for with about 350 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans. Question is, can you get the 9.5-bushel corn yield increase and the 3.5-bushel soybean yield increase?
Depending on where you farm, you might not. Soils vary a lot across the Midwest.
There may not be many farms with a multi-variety planter this year, but Bixel and Legleiter believe farmers and the ag industry need to start preparing.
Farmers with the most variable soils may have more to gain from multi-hybrid and variable seeding rate technology. To use the planters effectively, you need clearly identified management zones to locate where to plant the offensive and defensive varieties in a field.
Finding those zones takes time and effort, but it’s the same information that underlies other precision management on your farm.
First, the variation in your fields needs to be identified, says Bixel, typically using historic yield data or imagery. Once you identify areas of high and low yield, you need to identify the cause of the variations. Soil tests, electrical conductivity data, landscape and grower experience will help solve the puzzle.
Once you understand the root cause of crop performance differences in a field, you can identify varieties that excel in those conditions and place them correctly.
Perhaps someday, not too long from now, multi-variety planting will become standard practice. Research from South Dakota shows a consistent 6-bushel response in corn, and that’s with currently available hybrids.
In the future, we will likely see seed developed that’s targeted to specific soil conditions, which will make per-acre gains larger.
To make multi-hybrid, multi-variety planting work, it will take an investment in equipment and time, says Bixel. It also will take teamwork between you and your seed supplier, equipment dealer and agronomist to make the investment pay.
This article published in the April, 2016 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2016.
Precision Farming Management
Precision Farming Technology (Equipment)