Kinze 16-row True Speed planter

A Kinze 16-row True Speed planter moves through a field during a product test. Manufacturers are developing planters that put seed in the ground faster and more efficiently.

Greg Bigham just dished out a pretty good chunk of change for a planter. But like many farmers who are taking the plunge, he believes it will pay for itself.

Highly functional planters are more important than ever. Simply put, size and speed matter. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the midpoint acreage for U.S. farms nearly doubled between 1982 and 2007, from 589 acres to 1,105 acres. Many grain farms, of course, are much larger.

And while acreage is increasing, there is only so much time to get the crop in the ground. Farmers are susceptible to the whims of Mother Nature, and planting windows are sometimes small. That means they need to plant more acres more quickly.

Bigham, who farms near Vergennes in Jackson County, Ill., recently pulled the trigger on a John Deere DB-16. He can put a lot more seed in the ground in a lot less time than he could a few years ago.

“The rule of thumb is you typically run 5.5 miles per hour with a conventional planter,” Bigham said. “I ran as fast as 10 miles an hour on smooth ground to plant corn. You’re not going to do that all the time. I run 8 to 9 miles an hour most of the time.”

Manufacturers are aware of the need for speed.

“It’s really what they want,” said Eric Broadbent of Kinze Manufacturing. “It is about planting faster, but it’s also about getting more done in the same amount of time. Farmers are all trying to find avenues to expand their operations.

“One of the issues with expanding is when you go from a 12- to a 16-row planter, now you’ve got to change other tools, like a tillage tool or sprayer, or something along those lines. It’s very costly. It really is a conversation about scalability.”

Kinze recently unveiled it second 4905 True Speed 24-row planter for the 2021 season. It was originally planned for a 2022 release, but the company moved it up because testing had gone so well.

Planting speed is climbing at an amazing rate. Just a few short years ago most planters could operate efficiently only at about 5 miles per hour. Today, some can run as high as 12 miles per hour.

Speed is not everything, of course. Bigham understands that.

“Accuracy is probably more important than speed,” he said. “But being able to run a little faster is a benefit.”

“Farmers are getting more done without sacrificing any efficiencies,” Broadbent said. “Farms are growing, and farm labor is not where it was, even a couple of decades ago. That potential employee pool is not what it once was. So they have trouble putting folks in the seat to run these planters, so they have to get more done themselves.”

Bigham began farming seriously in his teens. He remembers having a 15-foot-wide Allis Chalmers planter with plates that sowed seeds on 20-inch spacings. The 60-foot John Deere is equipped with a hydraulic system that puts pressure on the outside wings and automatically adjusts for firm and soft ground.

“It tells you instantly what each row is doing and if they’re working properly,” said Bigham, who recently got a chance to use the new planter as he planted double-crop soybeans following wheat harvest. “It’s a splitter planter. I have 420-horse tractor and I think I need about a 620-horse tractor. I’m pulling 47 units. It just needs a lot of horsepower. But everybody is getting bigger planters.”

Like the Deere planter, Kinze’s 4905 model also utilizes hydraulics to help with uniform spacing and seed depth. The company tested it extensively on farmland and rolled it out earlier than planned.

“This high-speed planter has been in process a couple of years in production format,” Broadbent said. “We put tens of thousands of acres on these planters to make sure we have it right.”

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.