Prairie planting precisely takes tools

At up to 76 feet wide with up to a 1300 bushel commodity tank, Bourgaults is now offering a monster one-pass planting setup that can be used with either a coulter or hoe style drill, that can also be quickly switched back to use the air cart’s volumetric metering system. | Bourgault photo

Canola seed is susceptible to being chewed up by a poorly set air seeder. It isn’t surprising multiple equipment manufacturers have developed seeding systems that can both singulate canola seeds and still keep up to the logistical demands of broad-acre oilseed production. Some air seeders used to seed canola are lucky to reach a 70 percent germination rate so there is room to help producers reduce costs.

The story goes that if an air seeder’s air speed is turned up too much, or if the canola seed is particularly brittle, it can be damaged when it crashes into the manifolds, and that applying granular fertilizer in the seed airstream likely doesn’t help.

The planting world solved this problem by developing seed handling and placement technology that’s gentle on seed, provides precise plant spacing, seeding depth, and excellent seed-to-soil contact.

Canola trials that used planters often reach into the 90 percent germination range and the technicians say planters provide benefits beyond seed savings, including an even crop.

A uniform crop stand enables each plant to reach its genetic potential, and makes it easier for producers to stage crop protection product applications and to harvest the crop.

Until recently, planters have not been a viable option for most broad-acre growers, especially those fond of one-pass seeding, because of their low-seed holding capacity and how much fertilizer they could put on.

But there are now multiple planting platforms available, so producers can achieve the accuracy of a planter with the convenience of an air seeder. This week we are taking a look at some of them.

Bourgault

Bourgault came to market this spring with a monster one-pass planting set up.

The Air Planter system can be used with the company’s PLR opener on the new 3820 coulter drill, as well as the PLS, PLX and PLD openers on its 3330SE and 3335QDA hoe drills.

“I don’t think there are too many other players on the market that would allow you to do planting with a hoe-style opener,” said Robert Fagnou of Bourgault. The Air Planter system is offered as wide as 76 feet with up to a 1,300 bushel commodity tank, and it also allows growers to quickly switch from singulation to volumetric metering on the same platform.

The 3820 is Bourgault’s new single disk coulter drill that was developed in parallel with the Air Planter system. It was designed specifically to switch between volumetric seeding and planting.

Its PLR opener has a special boot designed to accept seed from the electrically driven eXact Placement (XP) meters, and it has a fertilizer knife that allows producers to also use a granular phosphate to go with the seed when planting .

“Other planter systems allow you to use liquid phos for in-band seeding, but that is more expensive than dry phos. Here you can use a dry fertilizer,” Fagnou said.

The dry fertilizer knife becomes your seed knife if you want to switch the drill to do volumetric seeding, and the toolbar can be fit with mid-row banders.

The XP meters in the Air Planter system are fed by a bulk-fill system available on Bourgault’s new 9000 series air carts. The Air Planter’s inductor bodies are mounted underneath the metering augers on the air cart, and there is a gate valve that will shut off flow to the inductor when performing volumetric metering. When a grower wants to plant, they shut off the metering auger and open up the gate valve and that allows seed to flow by the auger and into the inductor body.

“You still have your fans running, blowing air through the inductor body. We have baffles to set how much air is going through. Seed is then entrained into the air flow, that starts carrying the seed up through the line into the tower,” Fagnou said.

An inductor tower is mounted on the drill, and once its seed reservoir is full, it prevents airflow from the air cart from escaping out the top vent, which will stop delivery of seed from the tank.

There is another fan mounted on the drill that powers another inductor installed underneath the main inductor tower. This inductor essentially does the same thing as the one on the tank, except there are more chambers where it channels the seed.

“This is where it splits off to multiple seed towers over top of our XP meters, and it’s the same idea there again, where seed is carried up and the reservoir is essentially tall columns that will fill up with seed and there is a vent at the top there. Once it fills up, it blocks off the air vent. Then it will stop the flow of product from the drill inductor. So again, it won’t overflow the line or anything,” Fagnou said.

A seed pool is maintained at the bottom of the XP meters and when the metering plate goes through, it picks up the seed. There is another fan that creates a positive pressure in the meter that holds the seed to the plate, and once the plate rotates past the singulator that knocks off extra seeds, the singulated seed will reach the seed extractor.

“It’s basically going by a seal. Once it passes by that seal, then all of the sudden the air pressure becomes neutral, so the seed essentially falls off the plate,” Fagnou said.

The positive pressure also creates a seed tube airstream to the seed boot, which means the meters don’t have to rely on gravity to drop the seed into the soil.

The Air Planter system is offered in a variety of configurations, with the XP Meters available on 15-inch, 20-inch, and 24-inch spacing. There are metering plates available for canola, corn and soybeans, which has been the focus of research and development Bourgault has done thus far with the Air Planter system.

Fagnou said with canola they have been able to maintain a 97 percent average on seed singulation, but keeping the spacing in the soil is hard to achieve because canola seeds have such small mass. However, he said the jury is still out whether canola needs to have perfect in the row spacing like corn, because canola is a much more elastic plant.

“Even if the spacing might not be ideal, you still can achieve your seeds per acre. If you’re trying to dial back your costs and say you were at 425,000 seeds per acre, you want to dial that back to 400,000 seeds per acre, or even 350 or 325. It’s a lot more reliable using a planter system than with a volumetric system,” Fagnou said.

Capricorn Bay

Capricorn Bay is a Precision Planting dealer near Pipestone, Man., managed by Frank Prince, who helped Precision Planting develop a canola disk less than a decade ago, one that he’s been using on his farm.

The Precision Planting meter is a standard planter meter that has a seed pool with a disk and a vacuum on the back side of the disk. The disk goes through the pool and as its rotates, the vacuum holds the seed to the disk.

A twin toolbar unit with fertilizer coulters offers single pass planting and makes use of existing airseeder tank capacity. The company works with the farmer to produce a custom machine for every operation, based on its needs and size. | Robin Booker photo

The disk rotates past the singulator that knocks off any doubles, and the canola seed stays on the disk until it rotates to the top of the seed tube where the vacuum stops and gravity drops the seed down the tube. Static can be a problem for canola seed with some planting systems, so Capricorn Bay adds a seed-flow lubricant to the seed tank when filling called eFlow, which is a mixture of talc and graphite.

To get around the limitations planters have when it comes to on-board seed and fertilizer capacity, Capricorn Bay has single and double rank 60-foot toolbars fit with an air tank on the frame, a liquid fertilizer tank, the ability to add on mid-row banders and a fertilizer caddy cart.

Capricorn Bay can fit their planters with row units from Agco, Harvest, and John Deere, and can get down to as low as 10-inch row spacing, which makes their one-pass planting system compatible with most crops grown on the Prairies.

The John Deere row units can be fit with the RRV canola disk, and there are plenty of opening row cleaners and closing wheel options available.

“Our advantage is our planter has a meter on each row. Yes we blow the seed down the rows but we use such minimal pressure. We smash up very little seed when going down the rows, because there are not 90 degree corners. The air is exhausted, the velocity is reduced and it goes seed on seed into the seed pool,” Prince said.

Two years ago, Bayer came out seeds per bag for their InVigor line up where each bag does 10 aces, and Prince said this works out to about 10 seeds per sq. foot with the intention of getting six to grow.

With the Capricorn Bay’s hybrid planter set up, Prince uses one bag to seed 14 acres.

“If you are seeding 10 plants per sq. foot on a 15-inch row, or even six plants per sq. foot on a 15-inch row, each seed is under two inches apart,” Prince said.

“If you have a variance of half an inch or an inch, by the time it gets in the ground you now only have an inch spacing. In the corn world, they would say that’s a disaster, but in the canola world that’s not considered a disaster.”

He said one of biggest problems he’s seen with producers experimenting with using a planter for canola is when they pick up an older planter to try the practice.

“If you take a planter that is not in good shape and is worn down and you plant canola with it versus a planter that’s in good shape and has all the tools on it you can get a massive yield swing there,” Prince said. “You really need to put on hydraulic downforce.”

He said high emergence rates that planters provide are not just a function of seed singulation, and that planter tools such as row cleaners, gage wheels, air assist and seed firmers make a huge difference when it comes to uniform plant emergence.

Prince said he’s seen massive yield improvement and seed savings with germination rates typically above 90 percent when using a planter in canola, but he has also seen where canola-planted fields yielded less than where an air seeder was used.

This typically happened when fertilizer is floated on and worked in with harrows in the spring and the seed was planted into dry conditions so it struggled to germinate.

“It’s not just about getting the perfect metering. It’s more about everything else a planter does than it is about actual singulation in canola,” Prince said.

“Our biggest thing is we see more consistently across the field, so when it’s time to spray it’s time to spray the whole field.”

John Deere

Producers have been able to plant canola though John Deere row crop planters for years, by setting the company’s customizable disk for the oilseed.

“That would have been what we call a blank cell disc that you would create holes yourself to your desired rate for canola. So, it’s a disc that fits inside the meter housing and then it was calibrated in terms of an aftermarket solution” said Kevin Juhl, marketing manager for air seeders and planters at John Deere.

Starting in model year 2021, canola seed plates are available factory fit with John Deere’s Maxemerge 5e row unit.

John Deere offers many row sizes and toolbar widths all the way up to 90 feet, but Juhl said a 60 foot toolbar with 15 inch rows is a common set up for canola.

“There’s also the ability to basically build the configuration you want. Do you want it mounted, do you want to pull type, do you want to go up to 90 feet? All that’s offered from John Deere,” Juhl said.

“We’re still kind of figuring out, where is going to be that exact sweet spot for people that are planting canola through a planter.”

The 60 foot bars come with 130 bushel product capacity split between two 65 bushel tanks. The John Deere planters are also compatible with the ExactRate tanks on the 8RX tractors.

“It turns your planter capacity and your tractor capacity into one fluid capacity solution. So onboard on the planner we offer tank sizes of 450 gallons or 600 gallons, and then on the tractor tanks itself there’s a 1000 gallon capacity. So on a 60 foot bar you would have 1,600 gallons of liquid capacity,” Juhl said.

There are two ways to deliver the liquid fertilizer to the ground.

“You could put that through the furrow or you could put that in an offset configuration with a frame mounted fertilizer coulters, which are forward-mounted on the planter bar and offset by two inches from the, from the furrow,” Juhl said.

The ability to shut off and speed up or slow down the row units when going around corners will help producers maintain precise seed rates, especially with wide toolbars.

“When you talk about our MaEemerge 5 we have row clutches, and when you talk about our MaxEmerge 5E with the electric drive capability. That’s really where you’re going to see the most benefit of the row by row control,” Juhl said.

Hydraulically controlled down force controls the opening pressure to maintain the planting depth, which can be controlled from the cab as conditions change.

To maintain canola seed integrity, Juhl said John Deere uses automation, the ability to fine-tune the vacuum pressure on the planters, and hose routing designed with few places for seed to get hung up.

“It’s a gentle process as it’s moving across the planner bar, and then once it pools up in that metering system it really just comes down to the components of how quickly and how aggressively you’re planting. But if you’re hitting that four mile per hour, five mile per hour range which is in our operating conditions, then you should see a pretty gentle seed delivery,” Juhl said.

Vaderstäd

Vaderstäd high speed Tempo L planter is a viable one-pass planting system capable of both precise seed and fertilizer placement, as well as high fertilizer rates and seed-carrying capacity.

Vaderstäd high speed Tempo L planter is a viable one-pass planting system capable of both precise seed and fertilizer placement, as well as high fertilizer rates and seed-carrying capacity. | Vaderstad photo

“What we’ve been doing this past year is we moved to a central fill system with seed and fertilizer. So our seed goes through a central tank on the Tempo frame itself and the fertilizer goes through a Seed Hawk cart that is a tow between,” said Kris Cherewyk of Vaderstad.

The largest Tempo L is 40-feet wide with 32 rows and 15-inch row spacing, and has an on-frame central seed tank, and fertilizer coulters for 2” side banding.

What makes the tempo one of the fastest planters on the market is its PowerShoot technology and metering system that relies on positive air pressure to shoot the seed from the meter straight into the ground.

“It counts the amount of seed going down from the meter though the seed tube and into the ground. It adjusts the meter turns accordingly based on of course rate, but on ground speed as well too,” Cherewyk said.

Another way the PowerShoot enables accurate seeding rates at a high speed is to maintain air pressure throughout the seed tube.

“Instead of relying on gravity to get the seed into the ground, the metering system acts like a pea shooter and it shoots the seed straight down the tube and that eliminates any bouncing off the sides of the walls or anything like gravity or bouncing along the soil can provide,” Cherewyk said.

When the seed is going into the soil, it is brought to a stop by a rubber stop wheel that avails variability in singulation by reducing seed bounce in the soil.

“When a seed goes straight down into the soil, it can still bounce around. So when you have the stop wheel that brings it to a halt that helps ensure some better accuracy as well,” he said.

The Central Seed Fill system option on the Tempo L replaces the seed hoppers on the row units with a 3,000 litre seed hopper set on top and in the centre of the planter’s frame.

It can also be equipped with either a 3,000 or 5,000 litre fertilizer hopper and the variable-rate ready Fenix III metering system that can apply granular fertilizer at rates up to 350 kilograms per hectare at 15 km-h.

Row cleaners are available and probably a good idea when you’re no-tilling or when planting into fields with lots of residue, and there are multiple closing wheel opinions available.

Cherewyk said the conversation around using planters for canola shouldn’t just focus on the amount of money producers can save on seed.

“I think a better thing to emphasize is quality over quantity when it comes to crop. Because you’re not just using less plants, you’re trying to build a better plant by allowing that canola the extra room it needs to succeed,” Cherewyk said.

Clean Seed Capital Group

Clean Seed Capital Group redesigned its Smart Seeder and plans to have two models on the market in the spring of 2021, including the Smart Seeder Max-S that can singulate seed.

Clean Seed’s system now relies on a 7605 Bulk Transfer Cart that sends bulk product up to the seeder as the row meters call for it. There are individual load cells on each of the five tanks in the cart that have a total capacity of 760 bushels. | Clean Seed photo

The Smart Seeder Max-S is a 60-foot platform with 12-inch row spacing that individually meters five products at each row.

At the front and on top of the Smart Seeder frame is a platform where the air distribution system sits that controls the amount of bulk product the bulk transfer cart feeds forward.

Small quantity products can be fed into the air system from this front platform.

“Whether it be an inoculant or an amendment or micronutrient, we will allow you to place that product directly into the air distribution on the unit,” said Colin Rush of Clean Seed.

The platform also allows operators access to the electronics, to perform maintenance, and to help unplug the system if it gets backed up.

The air distribution system takes five bulk transfers from the bulk transfer cart and distributes them to one of 30 pods on the toolbar.

Inside each of these pods are eight meters, enough to distribute four products to two rows.

“The bulk transfer cart does a continuous transfer of five different tanks of product into our air distribution system and those air distribution systems work as a bulk fill on demand as our meters at each individual point call for product,” Rush said.

Air flow is stopped at the meters and gravity drop is used once the product has been metered.

“Each of those meters meter out independently so it’s like having 240 volumetric individual seeders on there that work based on a prescription. If you wanted to write a foot by foot prescription you can absolutely do that,” Rush said.

Each product drops down funnels that go down into a port on the DX openers, which gives operators multiple product placement options.

The DX paired row opener has a total width of four inches, and there is also a carbide tip that goes down 2.5 inches below the paired row rear ports that has another port.

“We dump our volumetric product into three different funnels, and we can put those funnels in five different positions. So we can actually go out the left port, the right port and down deep. So that’s three settings,” Rush said.

“Then any of those four volumetric products we can actually split. So we can split the paired row from one tank. We can go on both the left and right hand because we can put the meter right on top of the funnel where it splits it. We can also do deep band and side band over four inches. So there are actually five positions for that opener.”

The seed singulator is attached to the vacuum meter that is located below the volumetric meters and flares out to the side of the right opener because the singulated seed is generally placed out the right port, Rush said.

“We want to put it on that loose ledge where we place a lot of our seed out the right side for the majority of the people who want 12-inch spacing for things like canola, peas, etc.,” he said. With the addition of the singulated product, there are up to six different furrow placements for the five inputs and operators can quickly change where the product is placed by moving adjustment rods on the side of the seeder that move the banks of hoses into different ports.

Rush said gravity drop works well for their purposes because the seeder is designed to work at five m.p.h.

Each of the 240 meters in the Cushion Drive digital metering system are electrically powered and can be controlled by the seeder’s SeedSync Max operations dashboard, so features such as turn compensation and row-by-row sectional control are simple to achieve.

The meters are wirelessly connected to the SeedSync operations dashboard, which is made up of a suite of apps including SeedSync UI that connects to the core system to manage everything on the drill,SeedSync Core that is the onboard control system that manages the products, and SeedSync Cloud that manages telematics transfer to the cloud.

Great Plains

The Great Plains PL5800 is a 40-foot, bulk-fill planter capable of planting canola with the company’s 5000 series row units.

Great Plains PL5800 uses the company's 5000 series row units that are capable of variable-rate planting, turn compensation and section control when driven by individual row control (IRC) electric drive. | Robin Booker photo

“It’s really designed for specialty crops and speciality row spacing. The way we designed our toolbar it’s designed to fit all of your primary row spacing and row configurations allowing you to cover a wide variety of crops,” said Craig Hruska of Great Plains Manufacturing.

“Any of your twin row, so your 20-inch, your 30-inch twins, your 15-inch, and your 30-inch.”

The new PL5800 now has two fans, while previous Great Plains’ planters only had one.

“It uses one for your seed delivery and one for your meter pressure. It basically allows for a more precise and accurate controlling of your air,” Hruska said.

Growers can choose between a 82-bushel or 150-bu. tanks. The 82-bu. tank can be fitted with two side tanks for liquid fertilizer.

The 5000 series row units are driven by either hydraulics or by the optional individual row control (IRC) electric drive, which offers the benefit of variable-rate planting, turn compensation and section control.

The row units have 15-inch opener blades that are offset a half inch to improve performance in tough soil conditions. The closing wheel arm has been shortened compared to precision row units to improve seed to soil contact when moving around curves.

“One thing that’s really nice about the 5000 series row unit is how easily you can change between your seed plates and your seed types. It’s basically just a quarter turn, pull your plate, put your new plate in and you’re ready to go.”

Hruska said Great Plains has sold a canola disc for about 10 years.

“Each plate has 240 cells in it, and we’ve done the testing and you can singulate canola.”

He said planting speeds depend on the row unit, not the crop being planted.

“These seed tubes are designed to have a dead drop. That way, when your seed leaves your meter it’s going to have a clear drop straight through that tube, that way there is no contact with any of that tube. That way your seed spacing is going to be perfect every time,” Hruska said.

“So you’ll have that dead drop at about 5.5 m.p.h.”

The 5000 series row units are available with pneumatically controlled cylinders that allow down pressure adjustment to be made while planting, multiple press wheel options, coulters, row-cleaners and Keeton seed firmers.

SeedMaster

SeedMaster doesn’t singulate canola seed, but the UltraPro ll canola roller enables growers to reduce their canola seeding rates and still hit their target plant population.

SeedMaster doesn’t singulate canola seed, but the UltraPro ll canola roller enables growers to reduce their canola seeding rates and still hit their target plant population. | Mike Raine photo

“We’ve been leading that for many years through our UltraPro metering system, it meters into individual rows and it excels in low rate metering,” said Greg Vennard, director of engineering and operations at SeedMaster.

“The reason we’re able to drive the seeding rate down is we don’t damage seed through our metering and distribution system.”

With the individual row system, the product goes down into the air stream at the meter, straight through to the opener and into the ground without having to go through a secondary manifold.

“The next part of that is our opener is very accurate in seed placement and packing. So you get a very good emergence from the opener. With those combined things, we are able to drop the seeding rate because germination of viable plants is high.”

He said he hasn’t seen any conclusive evidence that canola seed needs to be singulated.

“The reason for singulating would be to try to go to a lower rate, compared to the standard five to six pound rate. The singulators will be able to meter at a lower rate. Our UltraPro meter is just as capable of doing that,” Vennard said.

He said every farmer has their own view on seeding rates, but that SeedMaster has plenty of customers that grow great crops when seeding in the three to four pound range, depending on the seed variety and the soil type.

“It depends on the kernel weight of the seed as far as having it singulated, but at these low seeding rates they become pretty evenly spread anyways just because of the amount of seed that you’re actually placing,” Vennard said.

The individual rows of delivery of the airstream tend to make the variance in the row to row distribution of seed less compared to systems that split seeds after the product meter.

The on-frame mounted UltraPro has a 320 bu. and a 40-bu. tank, it is compatible with the SeedMaster Nova air carts so there is no shortage of product carrying capacity, and can deliver product to SeedMaster tool bars up to 80-feet wide.

Horsch

Horsch have been used in canola for years, but the German equipment manufacturer has kicked it up a notch with its Maestro SW row crop planter equipped with Canola Ready Technology. Canola Ready Technology consists of a small seeds kit, including a set of stainless steel seed discs and quick-change meter components.

Maestro SW row crop planter equipped with Canola Ready Technology consists of a small seeds kit, including a set of stainless steel seed discs and quick-change meter components. | Horsch photo

“Each one of our disks has 108 holes that are precision machined into them. We have 1.2 and 1.5 mm holes that we use depending on the size of the seed a customer has,” said Jeremy Hughes.

Of the Maestro the company sells into western Canada that are used with canola, he said the most popular sizes are the 60-foot wide tool bar with 47 rows and 15 inch, and a 40-foot machine that has 31 rows on 15 inch row spacing. The Maestro comes with a central fill for both seed and fertilizer.

“On the maestro units we sold up in western Canada we would have anywhere from 725 to 1,225 gallons of liquid fertilizer capacity. Then we have anywhere from 166 bushels of seed up to 250 depending on how the customer configures the planter,” Hughes said.

“With 166 bushels of canola seed you can run all day and then some.”

A venturi system at the bottom of the product tanks feeds fertilizer and seed to each of the row units, then a fan on each side of the tool bar pulls air through the disk that is singulated and then gravity dropped down the seed tube to the bottom of the seed trench.

“We use a double disk opener, and once the seed comes through the seed tube to the bottom of the furrow, there are several different seed firming devices that we use to embed the seed in the bottom of the furrow,” Hughes said.

The Maestro’s use electric motors for the meters and each of the row units has a hydraulic cylinder on it for down pressure that maintains consistent seed depth.

Hughes said the Maestro is run anywhere between four or five miles per hour all the way up to eight or nine miles per hour, and that soil conditions dictate how fast the planter can be run.

“We have customers with 40-foot Maestros that are covering anywhere from 400 to 500 acres a day with those machines. If you push a 60 footer you can push even more than that,” he said.

The Maestro was not designed to be a one-pass platform, but Hughes said it doesn’t need to be because farming is quickly changing and producers are increasingly applying fertilizer before planting.

“Every year the canola yield potential goes up as far as an average. When that goes up so does the use of fertilizer. Today we are using two to three times the amount of fertilizer we were less than 20 years ago,” Hughes said.

He said the logistics of applying such high quantities of fertilizer has become difficult pull off in spring seeding window.

“There are bigger rigs today in canola, 80 to 90 foot dills and big carts, they’re only able to get 300 to 400 acres per day with those, and you look at the investment that is there,” Hughes said.

“We think of it a little differently. Use less investment and get more areas actually seeded during the optimal window for yield, and create uniformity and consistency in the crop with depth control and seedbed management.”

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