Do Planters or Drills Fit Your Farm Best?

April 25, 2018

What equipment should I use to plant my soybeans – a row unit planter or a drill?

That’s a question Eric Richter, Agronomic Seeds Manager, often gets when talking with growers. He says there are three factors to take into consideration when selecting the best fit for your farm – the length of growing season in your area, the field’s yield potential, and your ability to customize seed population by field.

When it comes down to it, however, Richter believes there is no right or wrong answer – except in extremely high or extremely low yield environments, which he defines as greater than 60 and less than 40 bushels per acre.

Assess your yield environment

“In mid-yield environments, you can make both systems and both pieces of equipment work reasonably well. For very high yield environments, I favour a planter. And for low areas, I prefer a drill or an air seeder for solid seeding in 6 or 7.5 inch rows,” says Richter.

Richter emphasizes that regardless of planting equipment, closing the crop canopy as early and as quickly as possible is essential for optimum yields. “This can be more of a challenge in the short season zones of Ontario where we don’t have the same amount of heat and length of growing season as we have in the southern parts of the province. In these areas, we’re also giving up huge amounts of sunshine energy and it gets even tougher if we’re planting late.”

Closing crop canopy is key

Richter highlights row closure as a key factor that growers should consider when selecting both row width and their planting equipment. “When we plant 30-inch rows in extreme growing conditions, whether it be too cold or too dry, they can lose 10 to 15 bushels because rows do not canopy and close properly,” says Richter.

When growers opt for a row unit planter, they have the ability to better manage high yielding environments that tend to generate tall and excessive growth at the expense of nodal growth. “In these environments, growers really have to be mindful of populations and plant type – thin vs. branching – to find the right balance. “Those beans look great, but if we don't get the population right, we get a lot of vegetative growth and disappointing yields.”

Richter notes that growers are often surprised when average or less-than-impressive stands exceed expectations. “If we're able to achieve canopy closure with the right population and variety we shouldn’t be shocked when beans that don’t stand much above your knees yield much better than expected.”

Pros and cons

Overall, Richter says the key differences between a planter and drill are fairly obvious: the planter provides precision spacing and depth control; can reduce seed requirements by five to 10 percent compared to a drill; and is more gentle on the seed. A drill or air seeder gives a grower higher capacity and the ability to plant more acres per day; and typically fits better in those shorter-season, lower-yielding environments.

Of course, planters do cost more than drills, but in high-yield environments Richter believes they are worth the investment. Even when seed savings are factored in, planters can still be more expensive based on cost per foot of row, but there’s certainly good value available in the used planter market and that’s also an option for growers.

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