Multi-hybrid planter to advance precision ag research

January 3, 2014
Multi-hybrid planter to advance precision ag research
Credit: South Dakota State University

When plant scientist Peter Sexton needed a new row-crop planter at the Beresford research farm, he looked to the future—in terms of equipment and networking.

With support from the Southeast Experiment Farm Board, a nonprofit growers' association that owns the , the Agricultural Experiment Station researcher forged a partnership with Raven Industries and DuPont Pioneer. The resulting collaboration serves as a template for success in innovation and research. The twin-row planter automatically switches hybrids based on GPS mapping of the field. And that's just the beginning of its research potential using precision agriculture to increase production.

Farm Board supports project

In spring 2012, Sexton sought advice from the Southeast Farm Corporation board regarding the need for a new planter.

Though SDSU staffs the farm, "the board plays a valuable role in our decision-making," Sexton explains. Proceeds from the farm go to the corporation, which then reinvests them into research.

"We've got a good relationship," says Sexton. The board agreed that a precision planter with the capability of planting multiple hybrids was the way to go. Kurt Reitsma, SDSU Extension Field Specialist, then arranged for Raven Industries engineers to meet with the board.

The most logical choice was a twin-row configuration and the Monosem planter had the three-point hitch the Beresford facility required, Sexton explains.

The Southeast Farm Board purchased the planter and provided funds for the raw materials needed to customize the planter. "Without their support, this project wouldn't have happened," Sexton says.

Raven retrofits planter

Through an agreement signed in the summer of 2012, Raven donated the engineering time to customize the planter. Sexton described what he wanted the planter to do and then Raven engineers developed those capabilities.

"This is a great model of industry partnering with public entities," says Raven Industries Product Manager Douglas Prairie, citing his company's emphasis on innovation. Sexton gave Raven engineers feedback as they developed the hydraulic drives, control system and software to modify the Monosem planter.

"It was fun to watch the excitement on the part of the engineering team," he adds. "They saw such a great purpose and vision in what they were accomplishing."

When the planter was used initially in the spring of 2013, Raven engineers worked on-site to make adjustments and get feedback from Sexton and the Beresford staff.

The development phase was kept under wraps until patents were filed and the system was unveiled at Raven in June 2013.

"We have far exceeded where I thought this product could be today," Prairie says. The multi-hybrid switching system, controls and software are now available to customers.

DuPont Pioneer supplies hybrids

In addition to the Beresford farm, test plots were sown on private farms in Parkston, Tripp, Lennox and Baltic.

For low-lying areas, Sexton wanted a hybrid that could stand what he calls "wet feet." It should have a horizontal root profile and be resistant to fungi to combat wetness it would experience in May and June. However, for the high areas, Sexton sought a variety with deep, vertical roots to reach for moisture when drought-stressed in August, he explains.

To select the appropriate corn and soybean hybrids for the fields that SDSU mapped, Sexton turned to DuPont Pioneer.

Pioneer agreed to supply the seed and made recommendations for Sexton, according to agronomy research manager Barry Anderson. "Whenever we can do research like this, it's a tremendous advantage."

The data from this research will "give us a chance to understand how our products perform," he explains. "It's nice when we as a seed industry can team up not only with the university but also with manufacturers. That doesn't always happen."

Field trials supply data

The first crops planted with the new machine were harvested in October 2013 and the data is now being analyzed.

This planter will allow SDSU researchers to produce agronomic data that will help farmers decide what to plant, where to plant it, how much to plant and when and how much pesticide/herbicide and fertilizer to apply, according to Sexton.

Explore further: Study shows smaller rows contribute to more soybean yields in colder climates

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