Right Place, Right Seedbed

Precision Planting unveils new depth-control and furrow-closing products.

Matt Wilde
By  Matt Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
Precision Planting’s SmartFirmer in use on a central Illinois farm, Image by Pamela Smith

Precision Planting introduced two new products designed to enhance seed germination, yields and, hopefully, profits.

SmartDepth and FurrowForce are part of the Tremont, Illinois-based company’s “intelligent planting system” that aims to give farmers greater control over most row unit functions.

But, producers will have to wait a year to buy the innovations. They will be field-tested worldwide and at Precision Planting’s 200-acre research farm this spring.

The company unveiled the products during its recent annual Winter Conference. Thousands of farmers, Precision Planting dealers and industry stakeholders attended the event at the company’s headquarters, including at seven simulcast locations.

The seed-depth and furrow-closing systems are designed to operate in conjunction with Precision Planting’s 20|20 display and other products.

Precision Planting officials understand spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit planters when commodity prices are near or below breakeven may be a tough decision for many farmers. But, they believe the investment is worth it.

“There are challenges out there but, also, opportunities,” says Justin Kauffman, Precision Planting general manager. “We can complain and blame, wait for someone to fix it or take responsibility for our own success.”

Purchasing equipment and technology to improve emergence and stands, and get plants off to the best start possible will pay off, company officials and dealers agree.

“I previously told customers it usually took one year to see a return on investment,” says Bryan Porter, a Precision Planting dealer and owner of Porter’s Ag Solutions, in Earlham, Iowa. “Now, I generally say two years in today’s farm economy.”


Precision Planting studies and research by Cornell, Iowa State and other universities have shown that planting at the right depth is imperative for optimum seed germination and uniform stands.

The “second knuckle” rule is often used when planting corn, explains Justin McMenamy, who works in research and development for the company. That’s how his great-grandfather set seed depth on the planter in 1925, and, that’s how many farmers do it today.

“There’s a ton that has changed on the farm. But, other things haven’t changed much,” he says.

That could cost farmers yield and money, McMenamy continues. The most common cause for uneven emergence is dry soil. Research shows 30% furrow moisture is optimal for corn at planting, and, that could be above or below the second knuckle. Furrow moisture levels vary among crops. For cotton, it’s 10%.

SmartDepth allows farmers to change planting depth manually or from the cab utilizing the 20|20 display so seeds have proper moisture to germinate. Moisture levels can vary among fields or spots within the same field. Precision Planting’s SmartFirmer reads soil moisture during planting. The seed firmer also measures soil temperature, organic matter and furrow residue.

Pairing SmartDepth with SmartFirmer allows growers to set a moisture target and a planting depth range, such as 1.5 to 3 inches. SmartDepth will adjust seeding depth of the planter to ensure that each seed is placed in adequate moisture for germination.

“One test showed an 18-bushel-per-acre difference [in corn] between 2 to 2.5 inches in depth where the correct moisture was at,” McMenamy says. “That’s what we get really excited about to bring agronomic value.”

Emergence in corn is king, says Steve Hettinger, of Tolono, Illinois. He and his brother, David, farm 7,500 acres and are Precision Planting dealers.

Hettinger hopes to beta test the new products, as he did with SmartFirmer and others, this spring. He’s confident SmartDepth will increase yields using data from SmartFirmer.

“Adding auto depth control so seeds will be planted in good, consistent moisture will get them off to a great, uniform start,” Hettinger says.

Two additional corn plants per one/1,000th of an acre emerged evenly could mean an extra 14 bushels per acre, double the bushels with four plants.

SmartDepth relies on the accuracy of SmartFirmer for optimal seed placement. Brett McArtor, a regional agronomist with the Iowa Soybean Association, says farmers can rely on SmartFirmer readings.

Precision Planting provided about 30 SmartFirmers to the association’s On-Farm Network last year. It conducts replicated strip trials allowing farmers to test products and practices on their own operations under their own management systems.

“We were looking to make sure the readings were right, and, that’s a definite yes,” McArtor says. “The payback is knowing you’re planting into good moisture.”

A price for SmartDepth hasn’t been set. SmartFirmer costs about $500 per row. The latest 20|20 display is about $5,300.


Preserving moisture and seed-to-soil contact while preventing compaction during planting are critical for germination and plant development. Properly closing the furrow does both.

FurrowForce takes the guesswork out of how much force is needed. It’s a new closing system that utilizes a sensor to allow automated control of the closing system and adjust downforce, as needed.

The first stage uses notched wheels to close the furrow by shifting soil inward. Next, stitch wheels firm the soil around the seed to the proper density in order to maintain moisture after planting. A closing load sensor links the two stages together, sensing weight carried by the stitch wheels and providing visibility of closing performance on the 20|20 display.

Jason Stoller, a research and development expert for Precision Planting, says FurrowForce deviates from the traditional practice of forcing the soil downward. Instead, it pinches the furrow closed.

“It’s adjusting many times per second to prevent slotting and air gaps,” Stoller says. During initial testing, he says yield advantages over traditional closing systems in corn typically exceeded 6 bushels per acre.

“Our research has shown this new technology drives increased yields in both tough-to-close and convention-till operations,” he adds.

A wet spring caused soil compaction problems during planting last year, Pocahontas, Iowa, farmer Mark Vosika says.

He thinks FurrowForce may prevent that problem. Vosika attended Precision Planting’s Winter Conference simulcast location in Ames, Iowa, to learn more about what the company has to offer.

“I was thinking of modifying my closing system,” Vosika says. “With persistent rain, we had some sidewall compaction issues in corn and soybeans, which I want to avoid. But, I would like to see it [FurrowForce] perform a year or two before making the investment.”

The Precision Planting customer is happy with other products. Vosika uses the 20|20 display, DeltaForce to provide the right amount of downforce to row units and the vSet seed-metering system to ensure even spacing and avoid skips and multiples.

Vosika says he’ll likely upgrade planter technology and equipment in the future along with furrow closing. This could include variable-rate seeding and vDrive, a row-unit motor that replaces the mechanical drive system to simplify how seed and insecticide meters operate.

“We love the performance of everything so far but need to update,” Vosika says.

A price for FurrowForce hadn’t been determined at press time.


The 20|20 display is the heart of Precision Planting products, Hettinger contends. It gives the planter operator clear vision and confidence of what is going on in the seed furrow, and provides data for the company’s control systems.

The company recently launched the new 20|20 Connect phone and tablet application. It gives operators the ability to connect their mobile devices to the display to perform frequently used functions like diagnostic and health checks, which can save time.

Precision Planting also recently updated its 20|20 display, including wi-fi connectivity in the cab, through pairing to a mobile hotspot. It enables users to view background satellite imagery behind their planting, harvest or side-dress maps, and update software without a USB stick.

Jason Webster, the company’s commercial agronomist, urged growers to challenge the status quo. “With sensing technology, you have the ability to know your soil like you know your equipment,” he says.


Precision Planting

Follow Matt on Twitter at: @progressivWilde


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