Robot Farm Hand

Planting technology can offer short payback time

24268719[1]Advanced planting technologies can reduce labor, seed and other input costs, and increase profits, says a University of Missouri Plant Sciences cereal crops specialist.

These technologies include automatic section control (ASC), as-planted maps, variable-rate seeding, precision seed metering, auto steering, yield monitoring, and on-farm research, said Brent Myers during the recent Crop Injury Diagnostic Clinic sponsored by MU Extension and the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Brent Myers.Brent Myers.

A farm implement equipped with ASC knows where to plant and can sense where it has already planted, reducing skipped areas and overlap of planted areas. It can shut itself off when finished.

“There are good economic reasons to do this,” Myers said, citing savings in seed costs and harvest time.

Know the Costs

There are costs associated with ASC, he said. A spreadsheet tool from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville lets producers compare lost revenue from reduced yield on overlaps to additional costs for seed, treatments and equipment. The Automatic Section Control for Planters Cost Calculator is available for download at

Assuming that producers already have some system components, such as a field computer and GPS system from a yield monitoring system, additional ASC component costs include compatible planters, software activation, planter controllers and row clutches. Based on a 12-row system, costs run $8,100 to $13,000.

Myers demonstrated the use of the UT software on a 1,000-acre farm planted equally in soybeans and corn to examine the years of repayment needed to recover costs of ASC. He concluded that it would take less than one year to recoup costs in a 1,000-acre farm with high overlap severity, and 2.6 years for medium overlap severity. A farm with a 25-50-25 mix of fields with low, medium and high overlap severity — a good estimate for many Missouri farms — would take about three years to pay for ASC. It would take 10.4 years to recoup costs in farms with low overlap severity, and probably would not be financially beneficial, Myers said.

19361733[1]An Easier and More Effective Workday?

There are intangible benefits for the farmer, including reduced fatigue, improved concentration, greater efficiency and simplicity. “Reduced stress at the end of every planter pass and not having to fight end rows during harvest is a paradigm shift,” Myers said. “It makes both planting and harvesting a lot easier.”

Myers said yield map analysis has become an important tool for farmers, and will be more so into the future. He warns that yield map analysis is hindered without important management data and recommends the collection and use of as-planted maps. As-planted maps provide important management details such as planting date, precipitation and temperature, hybrid, and areas planted. This can often change within a field boundary in ways that are difficult to recall.

“Producers will need to know the details of a planting operation five or 10 years down the road,” Myers said. “Planting date, for instance, can have a larger influence on yield than many of the factors causing variability within a field.”

Myers expects that the development of more advanced tools for produces will make as-planted data a necessity.

Data like this is also needed to use variable-rate seeding technology. Equipment is now capable of planting different amounts of seed in areas of the same field, based upon yield, soil or landscape variability.

Do the Research Before Committing

But Myers cautions that “the agronomy is behind the technology.” Farmers should consider on-farm research as a key tool for making variable-rate seeding work.  Local and multiyear data from check areas or test strips in contrasting parts of a field can help producers see if they are getting good variable-rate prescriptions.

“Seeding rate response in corn can vary a lot from year to year,” Myers says. “A multiyear perspective is needed to dial in on the correct range of seeding rates.” New technology and accurate record keeping will help producers make those decisions in the future.