I have a drill press in my shed at home. It is a common tool that I use all of the time. It has a lot of functionality and works better than a handheld drill for most things. But for as valuable a tool as my drill-press is, it is worthless without drill bits. So I have a few different sets of drill bit around. I have wood bits, metal bits, hole-saw bits, and more. I could accomplish the same results with a set of multipurpose bits, but it wouldn’t be the same. I would give up efficiency, performance, and probably the end quality of my work. So I have added specialty attachment that gives me options for better performance. Does this sound a bit like your planter at this point?
The comparison of a Planter to a drill press is a bit of a stretch, but it is still a valid illustration. Now I will jump back in time to Farm Show season. When I walk around farm shows, especially a few years ago, there were several vendors there promoting the benefits of their drill bits. Today, the same can be said about planter attachments. Closing wheels, residue management, starter attachments, and the list goes on. One area that I want to talk about though is the seed firmer.
Seed firmers aren’t for everybody. Let’s get that out in the open right now. If you push planting when conditions are a bit wet, and you are in heavier soils, you already know that they can do more harm than good sometimes. But if they are used properly, the benefits are undeniable. When you couple the benefits of a seed firmer, with technology, you get the Precision Planting Smart Firmer. This tool takes the same benefits as a firmer, but then ratchets it up a few notches. Smart Firmers add the ability to measure Organic Matter, Soil Moisture, and residue on the go. Each of those three components has significant value in the right conditions.
So, for those of you that plant into soil that has residue on it, how do we make sure we don’t pin residue into the furrow? If you have fixed row cleaners, you probably run them over aggressive and cause problems with a trench or with downforce or weight on your closing wheels. For those with floating cleaners or CleanSweeps, you have more control but fight the same problems. SmartFirmers take the guessing out of this problem because they can measure when there is trash in the furrow, and you aren’t getting the seed to soil contact that you want. As wind and humidity change throughout the day, imagine the benefit of having this warning when things begin to get sketchy.
We all know the reason that seeding depth is so important is that we want the seed to have the moisture and the temp it needs to germinate, and then grow. Yield is lost when the seed starts and stops because of temperature or moisture swings. It delays emergence and hurts vigor. But who wants to dig 10 minutes of every hour to check those things as conditions change. The moisture sensor on the SmartFimer at least assures us that we are planting into conditions that are favorable for a good start, or that we need to make changes to assure that.
And then we have the Organic Matter reading. For us in the Western Corn Belt, Organic Matter isn’t the magic reading that should control seeding rates like it can be back East. But it is a tremendously important layer in deciding Nitrogen Rates and even Herbicide performance. When we do Zone or Grid Sampling, we get a good baseline reading of what we are working with. If our planter took that reading in 20-foot swaths, imagine the improvements that we could have.
My take home for today is this. I seriously doubt that SmartFirmers by themselves are going to convince you to upgrade your planter into a 20/20 SeedSense System. But, if you are currently a grower who has invested into Precision Planting, and has added vDrives, SpeedTubes, or DeltaForce to your planter, there is a really good chance you already have the SRM backbone you need on the planter wiring wise. If that is the case, I urge you to make a small investment to add these measuring tools. I think that starting with a sensor ever 20’ on your planter is a great starting point. More are better, but every 20’ is a good start. And at around $600 each for those of you with an SRM system, it is a very low-cost insurance system. If you make a small adjustment here and there based on the system’s feedback, then that is money well spent this year.