Fast Deere runs through fields

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  — Deere has entered the high speed planting business.

High speed planting, which uses narrower machines to go faster, has been big news in agricultural machinery circles the past couple of years.

A few Australian and North American farm machinery companies have air seeding equipment that will travel 10 m.p.h. or more, but precision planters have typically travelled at five m.p.h. or less.

Two European companies with subsidiary operations in the Dakotas and Saskatchewan have high speed planters on the market and say the machines are proving popular with American producers, especially in the corn belt.

Corn is sensitive to plant spacing because it grows at different rates and plant sizes depending on what is happening with its neighbours. Like in canola planting, speed kills yield.

Even the best planter using traditional seed metering and delivery methods can’t meet exacting specifications when the machines are moving at high speeds.

Precision planting corn doesn’t always translate into higher yields in a western Canadian, dry land context, although it does make the crop easier to manage. However, it becomes critical to yield and management in high yielding scenarios, where water and longer growing seasons are available.

Deere is the only North American planter manufacturer to offer a high speed seeding option, but rumours are that several others have machine designs in testing.

Kelly Krueger of John Deere was in Louisville, Kentucky, to unveil ExactEmerge, its entry into the high speed race. He said the secret to being able to go faster is not to let the seed know how fast it’s travelling.

In a traditional seeder set-up, gravity moves seed down couple feet through a tube and into the soil. The faster a machine moves, the less reliable this process becomes. Seed will bounce violently if it is roughly dropped into the soil, which leads to imprecise placement and uneven growing.

Deere solved this by carrying the metered seed to within a couple of inches of the ground with a brush belt. The brush holds the seed in place until it is dropped lightly into the seed row, despite forward motion of 15 feet per second.

“It even works in no-till, min-till,” he said.

Greg Smith, who grows 3,000 acres of row crops near Cummings, Kansas, said his farm has a mix of heavy gumbo soil as well as sandy soil.

“Then there is some real poor ground.”

He zero tills 90 percent of the farm.

Deere tested one of the units on his farm last spring.

“At first I was a little skeptical. The Deere guy told me to drive the unit like I stole it. I drove it at six m.p.h. I only get one chance to plant a crop and no machinery company is going to have me wreck an acre just to prove out a machine,” he said.

“We checked. It looked good. Then seven. Good, Eight, good. Nine was the same.… I wouldn’t do 10 near the road. We went out back to another field where nobody might see it if it didn’t work out.… I tried following the machine in a gator, but I couldn’t ride it that fast. I checked the job it was doing. It was the same as six m.p.h.… It works. When it’s available for pre-ordering, I am getting one.”

Smith said the machine won’t save him much time and fuel because he plans to replace his 60 foot unit with a narrower planter that is more maneuverable.

“It takes more power to go 10 instead of five (m.p.h.), but it means I will have a machine that is better sized,” he said.

“It is not just a more precise machine at high speed. It’s also more precise than what I have at low speed.”

The ExactEmerge has a new, bowl shaped meter and brush unit that eliminates double seeds. The meter hands the seed off to the brush belt, which has replaced the gravity seed tube.

Krueger said the short drop eliminates problems on slopes, where seed traditionally will fall to one side of the tube and potentially land on the edge of the seed row.

A brushless 56 volt motor drives the meter while another one runs the brush belt.

Active hydraulics keep the row units in the ground, with operator control over the down force. The units are available for 15, 20 and 30 inch placement on 1775NT and 1795 planters with central commodity tanks.

Smith said he believes the new planter needs trash units in reduced tillage operations and plans to have them on his own machine.

“The brush units actually perform better in sticky soils and mud than the drop tube designs,” he said.

“Deere doesn’t say that about the machine, but those brushes are better in conditions where a farmer shouldn’t be planting. Not that I have ever done that myself, you understand.”

The company said it built in replacement wear points in the system in anticipation of more wear problems because of the increased number of moving parts. However, it anticipates that the row units will need no more maintenance than traditional MaxEmerge and ProSeries equipment.

Bob Timmons, who heads North American farm machinery marketing at Deere, said the company is looking at planting other crops besides corn and soybeans with the new design.

Deere hasn’t released a list price for the units yet, but it did say it will be at a premium to traditional designs and will be available for ordering by this summer, with delivery in 2015.

ExactEmerge planting system seeds accurately up to 13 miles per hour.  |  John Deere photo

ExactEmerge planting system seeds accurately up to 13 miles per hour. | John Deere photo

Kelby Krueger of John Deere shows the brush belt seed transport system.  |  Michael Raine photo

Kelby Krueger of John Deere shows the brush belt seed transport system. | Michael Raine photo

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