Liquid pop-up, a little dab

The next precision farming challenge is placing specific doses of pop-up fertilizer in the optimal position in the seed row to give new plants the best possible start in life.

Those first few weeks in a plant’s life constitute the most important part of the crop year, says CapstanAG’s Avery Brigden, explaining the new Seed-Squirter technology. Seed-Squirter strategically places a droplet of liquid pop-up where the seed would like it.

“Corn growers who have started using Seed-Squirter have been cutting their starter fertilizer rates in half and getting a two-bushel to eight-bushel per acre yield bump,” says Brigden.

“Shortly after germination, a corn seed needs 30 percent of the phosphorus it will use in the plant’s entire life. Phosphorus doesn’t become available until soil temperatures reach 55 to 60 degrees, (12 to 15 C) and temperatures in Western Canada are way below that when we plant. Plus, phosphorus doesn’t move through the soil the way nitrogen moves. The roots have to go searching for phos.”

Brigden points out that planters already have individual seed sensors with precise digital signals. Those signals can be used to create an exact application of very small doses of pop-up.

“Seed-Squirter Y’s into existing electronics on the planter. It Y’s into the signal produced by each individual seed falling down the tube,” says Brigden, adding that the system works for any corn, canola, bean or other seed going through a planter.

“That allows us to put a dose of starter fertilizer or liquid phos right on top of the seed if it’s a more dilute blend. If it’s a higher concentrate, we put the droplet off beside the seed. The phosphorus is right there, readily available when the seedling needs it.”

Brigden says the conventional method of dribbling liquid phosphorus generally puts down more than necessary, and doesn’t place it where it’s needed. It’s not effective in the early growth stages if it’s too far away. If it’s a higher concentrate and it’s too close to the seed, it damages the young plant.

“Some of the safer forms of fertilizer like the lower-salt Alpines are going right on the seed, touching the seed. Those are the more expensive fertilizers. The lower cost liquids have higher salt content, so we place them a half-inch or a full-inch off to the side.

“Right now, corn is the only crop for which the system is calibrated in Western Canada. But it can be used to apply nitrogen to corn. It senses when the seed is coming down the tube and times the squirt so it lands two inches (five centimetres) away from the seed. That’s part of the system now.

“Capstan is also working on applying micronutrients with the system. Micronutrients are fairly expensive, so if we can make them more efficient and cost-effective, that opens up other opportunities for the system.”

CapstanAG plans to work with many crops in 2018. Brigden says the system has been used on all major planter brands.

Price tag for the Seed-Squirter is C$900 per furrow, mounting on an existing planter row unit. Seed-Squirters are available from any Case, New Holland or John Deere dealer. Great Plains has Seed-Squirter as a factory option.

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