Smarter Every Season

Renew Your Planter

Adding technology to the planter you already own may make it as good as new -- perhaps even better.

When Jon Brelsford heads out to plant corn on the family farm near Grand Junction, Iowa, the planter he is pulling looks bright and shiny. But it isn't new -- it is best described as "renewed."

"We had been using a John Deere DB60, set up with interplant row units to provide 24 corn rows or 47 soybean rows," Brelsford says. "It had covered a lot of acres, and it is just big and heavy to use for planting corn. So we were looking to purchase a new planter and liked the idea of a high-speed planter to help us cover the corn acres that we have on the farm."

A SMARTER OPTION

What he didn't like was the price tag of a new planter. So Brelsford went to plan B.

"We found a John Deere 1770NT, set up for 24 rows with 30-inch spacing, and it had only been used on about 6,500 acres," he says. "We were able to get it bought for a reasonable price, then decided to upgrade it with a [Precision Planting] high-speed makeover: SpeedTubes, DeltaForce, vSet, vDrive, as well as SmartFirmers and FlowSense."

The conversion was accomplished in the farm shop a couple of winters ago, with help from Brandon Van Kerrebroeck, who operates Premier Ag Solutions. He's the local Precision Planting dealer.

"Jon's planter was pretty basic when he came to me with the idea of improving its efficiency," Van Kerrebroeck recalls. "Our plan started with the 20|20 monitor system, and plugging in components such as electric drives and row-by-row down-force control. The SpeedTube was just becoming available, and he liked the idea of planting in the high-speed environment. So that was added as well."

Van Kerrebroeck ran the components through the 20|20 "health checks" before the planter went to the field, adding confidence that it could hold its own. "It might have old paint on it," he says, "but with the technology pieces we added and having gone through it with a fine-tooth comb, I have confidence that this planter can perform better than one that comes right out of the factory."

Brelsford has used the planter for two growing seasons and likes what he sees. "We're really pleased with the performance we're getting," he says. "And I would say our investment in this planter represents less than half the price of going to the dealership and buying a new high-speed 24-row planter."

BACK TO THE BAR

Brad Theis of Le Center, Minnesota, describes his decision to refurbish his 2010 John Deere DB80, 32-row central-fill planter as a no-brainer. "It was real simple," Theis says. "It cost less than one-third of the price compared with trading for the same thing new."

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After eight seasons and tens of thousands of acres planted, the 80-foot-wide green seeder either needed to be overhauled or traded in, he recalls. "It was time to do something different," says Theis, who farms 6,500 acres of corn and soybeans with his father, Larry.

The local John Deere dealer wanted $350,000 difference to trade up to the new version of the DB80. But the Bauer Built bar, markers, central fill unit and other parts of the machine were still good.

Theis turned to a Precision Planting dealer, Porter's Ag Solutions of Earlham, Iowa, to make his 2010 planter like new again. Maybe better.

Bryan Porter decked out the planter with a laundry list of upgrades:

> Repairs to parts such as parallel arms and closing wheels.

> Adding a hydraulic weight transfer option to spread down pressure more evenly to the wings.

> DeltaForce to automatically control downforce to row units to promote even emergence all across the bar.

> vDrive, an electric drive to replace the mechanical drive systems.

> WaveVision sensors to count only seeds for accurate population counts.

> vApplyHD liquid fertilizer system that automatically controls flow and rate.

The upgrade also included a Generation 3, 20|20 monitor that controls Precision Planting components and provides the operator planting data.

The bill was about $125,000. "Brad knows he has a planter rebuilt to new specs, and his profit margin per acre is a heck of a lot better than buying new," Porter says.

Theis estimates corn yields will increase 3 bushels per acre, possibly more, on ground covered by the upgraded planter. He's seen similar results with his other planter, a 2014 John Deere DB80, which has DeltaForce and other Precision Planting technology.

"I'm pretty conservative estimating the yield increase," Theis says, with hopes of a two- to four-year payback. "This was the cheapest, best way to solve a problem. Visually, you can see the changes to the wings along with DeltaForce have helped us get a more uniform stand."

Glen Newcomer of Bryan, Ohio, recently refurbished his 16-row John Deere 1770 planter, figuring that, for about $3,000 per row, he could install the latest Precision Planting row downforce, electronics, seed metering, closing and fertilizer equipment.

For 2019, he added SmartFirmer, a seed firmer that can measure soil moisture, temperature, organic matter and furrow residue.

"With the number of acres being pushed through the eight-year-old planter, it was time to make a change," Newcomer says.

He wanted to buy a new 24-row planter, but commodity prices versus cost didn't compute. Retrofitting for 30 percent of the cost did.

"It was the most economical way to achieve our goals," Newcomer adds. "When you are looking for the most bang for the buck, investing in planter technology and anything to enhance yield is the logical choice."

He says it all begins with putting seed in the ground for the opportunity to capture its true genetic potential.

"I'm excited about next year using the information from SmartFirmers to create more detailed planting prescriptions. I want to make sure every minute the planter is operating, I get the best return-on-investment."

Ultimately, getting the best return on every seed that you plant is the goal. That's according to Ted Schmidt, who serves as western Iowa region manager for Precision Planting. And the planter you already have may be the best option for getting the biggest bang for the buck.

"Your planter frame and hydraulics may be in pretty good shape, and you may want to keep your row units," he says. "Those add up to about 60 to 70 percent of the cost of a new planter. You can replace the wear items and add technology according to your largest agronomic return."

The result can be a planter that has singulation, spacing and depth control that can rival -- or, perhaps even outperform -- a new one. "The only difference is how shiny the paint looks," Schmidt summarizes. "And, of course, the amount of money you need to invest in order to gain the agronomic value of precise control of your planting."

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