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Planter of the Future: Multiple Hybrids and Speed

“Multi-hybrid seed technology will be the next major evolutionary change of the planter,” says Ryan Molitor of Raven. “This could potentially be one of the biggest agronomic changes we have seen with planters.”

A multiple-hybrid planter will allow you to change the seed hybrid automatically as the planter moves across the field. Instead of selecting one variety for an entire field, seed hybrids can be selected and planted to suit different field zones. For example, in parts of the field with high-productivity soil, a racehorse seed variety can be used; a workhorse seed variety can be used in less-productive areas. In fields with poor drainage, a variety that can handle moisture can be planted in the lower areas; a more productive variety can be used in field locations with a higher elevation.

“Seed companies have a much better understanding of optimal population and placement of each hybrid than they did 10 years ago,” notes Roger Zielke of Ag Leader Technology. “I expect this trend to continue, translating into a need for a smarter planter. What variety, where to plant that variety, and at what population will be driven by where the planter finds itself in the field.”

While the benefits of a multi-hybrid planter are becoming clearer, the execution will require collaboration among seed companies and manufacturers. “It’s a combination of the smarts and intelligence from the seed companies that can optimize what should be planted on a particular field as well as the engineering difficulties of how that can be executed on a planter at a reasonable cost,” says Doug Sauder of Precision Planting.

“Our multi-hybrid planter holds two hybrids on board the planter, but this could increase if the concept is effective and has rapid adoption,” says Jason Webster of Beck’s Hybrids. “Creating hybrids for certain soils or geographic regions will only increase in the future. Multiple smaller hopper boxes may need to be added to the planter to carry hybrids needed to plant or for convenience factors.”

Multi-hybrid execution

One reason manufacturers have struggled with a multi-hybrid planter is there is no simple, cost-effective mechanical solution that will allow the planter to switch instantly from one hybrid to the next.

In 2013, Raven introduced the OmniRow multi-hybrid system that switches seed hybrids on-the-go to match soil conditions. Each row unit is equipped with a hydraulic motor that controls which hybrid is released. Sensors on the row unit monitor shaft speed and seed delivery.

Kinze Manufacturing and Precision Planting recently presented an electric multi-hybrid concept planter that incorporates two meters for every row. Meters are fed from a bulk fill tank to a mini seed hopper. To switch hybrids, the electric meter control system switches from the front meter to the back meter and then back again. Meters are placed close together so they can feed a single seed tube.

With more than two hybrids on one planter, this would require more than two meters or a new mechanical solution. However, there may not be agronomic evidence to support more than two hybrids. “At this time, the agronomics don’t necessarily support a demand for more than two,” says Raven’s Molitor. “Once there is proof that four hybrids makes sense, planter toolbars and meters will have to evolve to support this. I am not sure yet how this will be done.”

The need for speed

“Another theme we think is on the horizon is
the need for speed,” says Precision Planting’s Sauder. “Planters have
really maxed out their size capabilities, yet there is an incredible
drive for efficiency. Can we overcome the hurdles that have held back
planting technology? That’s really about how you can adequately space
the seed in the ground at higher speeds.”

Electric-driven meters
are one solution for high-speed planting. These meters accurately
singulate seed at higher speeds. However, what happens after the seed
leaves the meter still limits speed. The main speed hurdle is the seed
tube.

“A current seed tube is maximized for around 5 to 5½ mph,”
explains Kelby Krueger of John Deere. “If you go faster, the seed will
start bouncing in the seed tube. Then each seed will come out
inconsistently at different angles, and your depth and spacing quality
are sacrificed.” A solution where the seed is controlled almost all the
way to the trench by a delivery system is one way to maintain accuracy
at higher speeds. With this limitation out of the way, what will hold
planters back from going 10, 15, or 20 mph?

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