The technology that brings variable-rate (VR) planting to field is still evolving, but three companies have come on strong on this segment.
Ben Smith, territory customer support manager with John Deere, says the majority of the company’s new large-frame row-crop planters (16 rows or greater) are sold with factory-installed hydraulic variable rate drive. Seed VR drive provides “the ultimate planting productivity by utilizing one, two, or three hydraulic motors — which varies by the model — to turn the seeding drive shaft,” he says.
Hydraulic control of the seeding drive allows for on-the-go seeding rate changes right from the display mounted inside the tractor cab. “Combine this seeding flexibility with the map-based planting option, and seeding rates adjust automatically based on the prescribed map,” he explains.
Customers appreciate that the technology allows them to manage seed inputs more efficiently by optimizing their planting population for maximum yield potential, says Mike Brandert, product manager at John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group. “In many cases customers are finding a real reduction in seed costs while still achieving or exceeding their desired yield goals in those management zones.” And they’re seeing reductions in other input costs because Deere’s units can do variable rate application of seed, chemicals, and nutrients in one pass, using a rate controller in addition to the other controllers.
While Brandert says Deere’s VR equipment has not changed much in the past few years, the way customers create the prescriptions has. “They’re exploring the benefits of prescriptions off of elevation maps, soil type maps, and yield/production history,” he says.
Planter/monitors of the future will have even more channels for variable-rate control, says Gary Hamilton, senior specialist, seeding and tillage with AGCO. The standard ISOBUS model C1000 Terminal/Monitor currently provides variable-rate planting capability for all hydraulic-drive 8000 Series White Planters. “It provides the operator with the convenience of an infinite seeding rate adjustment as well as variable-rate prescription mapping and ‘as applied’ mapping when a GPS receiver is added,” says Hamilton.
Marlin Melander, senior specialist with Advanced Technology Systems, says AGCO’s consoles are getting faster and easier to use — one improvement is more internal memory built into the console itself. It provides data logging without the need for a memory card.
At Kinze Manufacturing, variable-rate planting equipment is factory-installed on the Kinze 3660 and 3800 models, and it can be dealer-installed on the 3600. One of the units’ newer developments: Hydraulic drives come as part of the company’s technology packages.
Kinze made headlines in August with the unveiling of its new precision planting technology: An autonomous planter that runs without an operator in the cab.
To begin, the grower loads a field map into a GPS system, including field boundaries and any predesigned non-field areas such as waterways. After being taken to an identified field, the system generates the most efficient method to plant it. The system then positions the tractor and planter at a designated starting point and begins planting until it encounters an obstacle. Grower intervention is required to maneuver around unplanned obstacles.
Kinze performed extensive obstacle testing to ensure the accuracy and safety of the autonomous equipment. Beginning in a laboratory environment and then in the field, engineers simulated real-world scenarios to ensure the equipment would detect objects often encountered in the field, such as fence posts, stand pipes, farm animals, and other vehicles.
The technology was originally developed in a laboratory setting using computer simulation. Kinze engineers partnered with Jaybridge Robotics, Cambridge, MA, to bring the technology from the lab to the field, and to test and refine the work. In addition to planting, the Kinze Autonomy Project could be used for a variety of other tasks, including applying nutrients and harvesting crops.