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Sizing up planters

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:21pm

Earl Canfield has spent a lot of time, effort, and money getting his 1992 six-row, 30-inch John Deere 7200 planter just the way he wants it. He's added new-style gauge wheel arms, cast-iron closing brackets, and curve-tine closing wheels. Plus, he's added seed firmers and trash wheels. Finally, he's added liquid fertilizer equipment that applies fertilizer beside the row or in the row.

This spring, the planter once again performed flawlessly in no-till, strip-till, and conservation tillage conditions. Indeed, there's not much the Dunkerton, Iowa, farmer doesn't like about his planter, except its size.

"I'm at a point where I'm considering getting a newer planter and probably a larger one in order to be more timely and have opportunities for expansion," he said recently in a posting in the Crop Scouting discussion group of Agriculture Online(tm).

He's not alone. A lot of farmers are reassessing the size of their planters. As farms have grown in size, many farmers are pushing their planters over more acres. While that may pay dividends in dry, wide-open springs, it could cost them dearly in wet springs.

A new study out of the University of Illinois shows that you can't afford to ignore the cost of timeliness when buying a new planter. Gary Schnitkey, a University of Illinois farm management specialist, looked at both power costs and timeliness costs in determining the optimum-sized planter for farms ranging in size from 400 acres to 4,000 acres (in 400-acre increments). He evaluated seven sizes of planters ranging from six-row models to 36-row models. (See Table 1 in the pdf of this article.) Each planter was assumed to plant all the farm acres evenly split between corn and soybeans.

"Power costs include depreciation, interest, repairs, housing, insurance, fuel, lubrication, and labor," says Schnitkey. He calculated power costs for both the planter and a tractor. "Timeliness costs account for yield losses from not planting near optimal times," he says. In figuring timeliness, Schnitkey considered such factors as days suitable for fieldwork and yield losses that result from late planting.

Earl Canfield has spent a lot of time, effort, and money getting his 1992 six-row, 30-inch John Deere 7200 planter just the way he wants it. He's added new-style gauge wheel arms, cast-iron closing brackets, and curve-tine closing wheels. Plus, he's added seed firmers and trash wheels. Finally, he's added liquid fertilizer equipment that applies fertilizer beside the row or in the row.

He determined the number of acres each planter can plant in an hour.

Yield losses stemming from untimely planting were estimated by using yield functions obtained from University of Illinois crop scientist Emerson Nafziger. Yields from this function are shown in Figure 1 (pdf).

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