Planter speed graph

Conventional planters significantly increase the amount of skips as planter speed increases. High-speed planters are able to maintain a low level of skips at all speeds up to 10 mph. 

Editor’s note: The following was written by Ryan Bergman, Iowa State University program coordinator in ag technology, for the Extension Integrated Crop Management website.

Recently Iowa State University completed a five-year study of high-speed planting technology using the Precision Planting SpeedTube and the John Deere ExactEmerge seed meter and seed delivery system.

In agriculture, it is rare that a single technology will provide a guaranteed yield response every year. When considering the yield benefits of high-speed planting, it’s important to consider two areas where this new technology has an opportunity to enhance yields in a given year.

Plant spacing and skips

The most direct influence a planter row unit can have on yield is in its number of seed skips or unplanted seeds. A significant amount of skips will result in a net reduction in overall corn population.

In testing conducted at ISU, we observed a significant increase in the number of skips at planting speeds of 7.5 miles per hour and greater when using a conventional vacuum seed meter, compared to a meter designed for high-speed operation. The combination of skips produced at the seed meter and skips produced by excessive seed bounce in the drop tube often exceeded 10% for a conventional planter meter operating at 10 miles per hour.

Increasing seed meter skips and seed bounce in the drop tube resulted in less consistent seed spacing. Seed spacing with high-speed planters was consistent at all speeds tested, up to 10 miles per hour.

During side-by-side comparisons in the same field planted with the same variety, we observed that high-speed planters produced statistical yield advantages ranging from 0 to 3 bushels per acre.

While not guaranteed to provide a positive yield response in a single year, improved spacing and reduced skips is a foundation to strong corn production, and high-speed planting technology can deliver results over a wider operating range than traditional planter row units.

Timely planting

The economic benefit of reduced skips and improved corn spacing are only achieved when planting at high speeds. When operated at the recommended speed of approximately 5 miles per hour, the majority of conventional planting systems can achieve high-quality spacing that will maximize yield.

But corn yield potential is influenced by planting date. Although the specific date range varies based on where you farm, all regions of the Corn Belt have date ranges that maximize yield potential. As corn planting extends beyond the optimal planting window, yield potential can drop by as much as 3-5% per week.

If you are one week beyond your optimal window for 20% of your corn acres, it will have a net impact of approximately $6 per acre across your farm. For a 1,000-acre corn producer with 200 acres of late-planted corn, the average economic impact will be $6,000.

While this is certainly not guaranteed in a specific year, there is strong agronomic data to suggest this economic impact is real over the long term.

There are multiple ways to increase planting capacity and plant more corn within the optimal window. This includes using a larger planter, operating multiple planters or planting at a higher ground speed. Each producer decides how to optimize their own operation to balance logistics, cost and labor capacity.

For many, choosing high-speed planting technology is a way to maintain current equipment size while planting more acres per hour with the same amount of labor.

Recommendations for planting capacity are heavily driven by risk management. High-speed planting technologies are simply another way to manage risk, provide growers with another tool for managing narrow planting windows and get more corn planted within the optimal planting period for their region.

Soybean survival rate & yield

In the high-speed planting study conducted at ISU, we found soybean survival rates at harvest are higher when they are planted with a system that can singulate and maintain good spacing, even at high planting populations.

The yield advantage of improved singulation and survival rate in soybeans ranged from 0 to 2 bushels per acre in a given year. Results were similar across seeding rates ranging from 100,000 to 160,000 seeds per acre, which highlights soybean yield flex across populations.

While this result does not suggest a guaranteed financial gain from yield improvement, it does highlight the potential of high-speed planting systems, and specifically the improved seed delivery systems, to enable reduced soybean seeding rates to achieve the same harvest plant density and yield.