Count costly corn seeds

Seed costs using a 16-row, 30 inch corn planter to plant 34,000 seeds per acre:

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Corn growers face a multitude of critical decisions as they try to extract the most value from their high-cost planters.

Those decisions become more important as they start to understand the real time cost to run that planter, independent corn consultant Bill Lehmkuhl told a recent Pioneer planter clinic in Portage la Prairie.

He presented growers with a cost rundown example based on a typical corn planter operating in typical conditions in the U.S. corn belt. He said the figures would be nearly the same in Canada.

  • Planting seed: 5 mph (8 km/hr)
  • Seed cost: $250 per bag
  • 80,000 seeds/bag ÷ $250 = $0.003125 per seed
  • The planter drops 15 seeds per second, per row, so 16 rows x 15 seeds/sec./row = 240 seeds/second planted
  • Seed costs: 240 x $0.003125 = $0.75 per second

This 75 cents per second includes only the cost of seed through the machine and not tractor, fuel, manpower, field preparation, fertilizer, crop protection products, taxes, crop insurance and other factors going into raising the crop.

“It costs a lot to run a corn planter. That’s why I keep telling growers to try getting everything perfect,” said Lehmkuhl, who suggested that wrong decisions can be made before farmers even buy the planter.

“I can understand the convenience and efficiency of buying a central fill planter. It’s quicker and easier than filling boxes,” he said.

“But you have to compare the convenience and time saving against the fact that your crop may suffer. You need to manage that extra weight properly, especially on marginal soils.”

Lehmkuhl said the extra weight of a central fill box rides right behind the tractor wheels, which is the same area for the tires that support the planter.

“That’s a massive weight pinching down and pinching those rows. You’ve created extra issues in those rows in the central part of the planter,” he said.

“Two things happen. First, you don’t get seed into the ground. No crop in those rows. The second problem is that you run too much down pressure to compensate. That excess pressure pinches the rows.”

Lehmkuhl said the industry is finally addressing the problem with hydraulic down force that’s adjusted from the cab. It’s especially important for the centre section of the frame.

Adjustable hydraulic down force is available from Precision Planting and from Dawn, working in partnership with Ag Leader.

“Compared to the air bag systems, I think hydraulics will be the predominant system in the long term,” he said.

“Hydraulic reaction time is quicker, and you’re not dumping and bleeding air. You get instantaneous movement with hydraulic. Of course there’s more cost, but that should be offset by bigger profits.”

While Lehmkuhl stands behind his advice, he also reminded producers that variations between fields do occur.

“I always tell people that what I know is true for one farm might not work on the neighbour’s farm.”

That’s the case with an aftermarket planter attachment known as the AcraPlant V slice insert, which bolts into the spot where the seed tube normally attaches. It extends out through the bottom of the double disc opener to firm the bottom of the trench.

“But with that thing protruding out there, it can smear the sidewalls of the seed trench if you’re planting into wet or marginal conditions,” he said.

“Your roots will have a difficult time getting out past that smear. If you’re running in conventional tillage and with the right soil type, it might work just fine.”

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