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New Technology on Older Iron: Age is Just a Number

Updated: 03/28/2014 @ 11:04am

Pushing populations on his 30-inch rows has been part of Bruce Rohwer’s planting regimen for more than a decade. 

“I’ve been running as high as 36,000 on corn for many years,” says the Paulina, Iowa, farmer and past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “I feel population is tied to yield. Yet, in my experiments, it seems that I’m somewhat limited with wider row spacing when I start going past 36,000.”

In 2013, he bought another set of seed meters for his decade-old Kinze planter and cut his planting row width in half. Trimming the distance between plants created a problem, though. “When I plant with a 30-foot planter in a row every 15 inches, that’s an awful lot of seed that goes into the end rows if I’m on any kind of a contour,” explains Rohwer. “It was the motivating factor to get off dead center.”

Also, he didn’t want to lose on his seed investment twice – once in the spring because he’s spending more on seed than necessary and again at harvest because of overpopulation.

“If I plant too much seed because I’m pushing for higher populations, I can stress the plant to the point where I’m losing yield,” he says. “Not to mention the loss of seed that didn’t need to be there in the first place. It’s a double whammy.”

In order to maximize seed placement, Rohwer wanted the ability to shut off individual rows rather than sections. “My planter has a 50/50 split on it. I can shut off eight rows or 15 feet as I come into the end rows, but 15 feet in can be a long way sometimes,” he explains. 

Upgrading technology meant Rohwer was faced with a decision to trade in his older iron or to retrofit his 2003 Kinze 3600 planter and 1980 Case IH 7120 planting tractor.

“Technology is the future. As seed technologies continue to change, it’s going to be even more important. However, I couldn’t see investing in a new planter or tractor for the 1,100 acres I cover,” Rohwer says. 

“If the technology works reasonably well on older equipment, it might be more economical to retrofit it than to buy new if you can’t justify new equipment,” says professor and Extension agricultural economist Kevin Dhuyvetter, Kansas State University. “This will vary based on which technology you are looking at and what you are retrofitting. Even if the technology doesn’t work quite as well on older equipment, it still might be a good investment.”

Yet, he cautions that some technologies might not be conducive to retrofitting or even possible in some cases.

“Another thing to think about is how long you will have the equipment you’re retrofitting before you trade,” says Dhuyvetter. “You probably don’t want to retrofit an older planter with row shutoffs if you will be trading it in in a couple years. If you plan to keep running it for five more years, it would likely make sense.” 

You can evaluate various scenarios by using a decision-making tool at agmanager.info, which Dhuyvetter helped develop.

Breaking it down
Rohwer turned to HTS Ag in Harlan, Iowa, for technology advice.

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