John Deere's teaser ads started in June. The headline promises a new era in split-row planting, and the intentionally fuzzy photo shows just a row of oversized yellow and green planter boxes.

The company says the ad is a peek at its most exciting planter technology package since its MaxEmerge planter. Introduced in 1973, the MaxEmerge combined a “plateless” meter, a “finger pickup” and a complete row unit. In those days, Deere's formula for success brought existing technologies together into a package that was an easy sell to farmers.

More recently, the great hope for a new formula has been a hybrid combination of corn planter and air seeder. But until now, it has been other companies, not Deere, that have been launching new bulked-up creations at farm shows and test markets throughout the Corn Belt.

Deere hopes to change all that at this fall's farm shows as the company rolls out its answer to competitors such as Flexi-Coil, White, Case IH, Kinze and lesser-known upstarts such as Morris. The company claims its machine will bring the benefits of bulk fill and air seeding to corn in a way that's manageable for the average farmer.

Chad Braden, a product manager for Deere's seeding works, says Deere looks to its customers as “market drivers” before jumping into the next big thing. “Judging from what's happening with our competitors and what our customers tell us, farmers increasingly want the speed, versatility and single-point fill capabilities of an air seeder combined with the precision and reliability of a corn planter,” Braden says. “While some of our competitors have already started heading in this direction, we believe Deere is now about to take the next step that truly makes air seeding technology and bulk fill practical for the Corn Belt.”

As of late June, the only characteristic of its planters that Deere was willing to discuss was their bulk fill capability. A jumbo seed box “central commodity” system will allow the farmer to fill the planter with fertilizer and seed at one central point, without the use of a trail-behind seed cart. The selling points are easier filling, maneuverability and clean-out and increased capacity.

Presumably, though, there's a lot more to the new machines than just big boxes. Deere will show it all when it introduces 10 new models of planting machines late this summer.

Trend lines

But ask the experts what Deere is up to, and they'll tell you to look at where the industry is already going. That's where Deere wants to be.

Some experts, like Gregg Sauder of Precision Planting Company in central Illinois, are incredulous that Deere waited so long to take its planting technology to the next level. “From what I've seen, Kinze and other smaller companies have been stealing a lot of market share from Deere and Case IH in recent years,” Sauder says.

In planters, Sauder says the big boys have put themselves in a position where they need to hit a home run. “Companies talk about radically new technologies in their planters; I think most of those claims are overstated. I simply don't believe you can drive across the field at 8 mph and get good results just because you put a new seed meter on an old planter unit. Speed control and precise seed placement are still the best ways to produce maximum ears per acre. No other thing that a farmer can control has as big an impact on yield.”

Despite his skepticism, Sauder says he was impressed when he got a glimpse of Deere's new splitter concept. “What I saw was something unique, actually a pretty nifty idea. Think about a pusher splitter; well, this was a tailing splitter unit designed specifically for the new planter's weight distribution and how it folds. The fast-loading hopper is also a plus. Minimize loading time and you won't have to drive too fast.”

What else does Sauder think Deere might do to win back market share? “Deere needs 15-in. bean and 30-in. corn capability in one machine. And better residue control. I really look for Deere to do something about that.”

Brain transplant

Many visionaries in the planting business remain convinced of the potential for a hybrid air seeder/corn planter that can plant corn, and beans. And when companies and farmers look for the next big thing, they often turn to Dwayne Beck, stalwart planter guru at South Dakota State University's Dakota Lakes Research Farm.

Beck has become famous for giving research station visitors a “brain transplant,” often changing their ideas about planter technology with the help of his prototype air seeder/corn-planting machine.

“The main reason for us building a prototype is to provide a prop for when we talk to producers about characteristics they may want in a commercially available seeder,” Beck explains. “When farmers get new ideas and ask for things, manufacturers eventually respond.”

One of Beck's goals is to successfully marry the precision of a corn planter to the efficiency of a corn seeder. “Most air seeders are not sufficiently precise to plant corn. The problems lie in the ground-engaging components and the metering systems,” he says. “Most air seeders do not have parallel linkages like corn planters. This diminishes their depth-control accuracy and makes it impossible to use the opener to gauge attachments such as residue managers.

“Another issue is seed singulation accuracy and delivery,” Beck continues. “Corn planter manufacturers have spent a great deal of effort ensuring that seed spacing is as near perfect as possible. Seed corn and sunflowers must be metered by count and not volume.”

Cart conundrum

What about companies already selling hybrid seeders that use air seeder carts? These setups typically have corn planter units on one rank with other openers present for seeding other crops.

“The main drawback of this design is that there are two opener types to keep parts for, and you have the relatively high-maintenance corn planter units being used to seed all crops,” Beck says. “In addition, the corn units are not able to meter seed for the other units, so singulation accuracy and the ability to use residue managers are limited to only the corn-row-unit rows. Those functions are not available when all openers are used to seed narrow-spaced crops.”

Beck points out that air seeder carts, though they can significantly reduce loading time, can also be a burden in the headlands. “A cart ahead of, or behind, the planting unit just isn't very agile during turning or backing,” he says. “And the cart system does not do a good job of balancing weight distribution for minimum impact on the soil. So another goal of our prototype has been to build a seeder with the capacity and convenience of air delivery, but having much more agility and better weight distribution. This part has been very successful.”

Pro cart

Despite the machinery industry's search for alternatives to air carts, there's a small but growing number of farmers who like their carts just fine. Junior Dusseldorp of Platte, SD, is one of them.

For three years, Dusseldorp tested a Morris Aero prototype on his 2,000-acre corn and soybean farm. The combination system of Kinze planting units, Morris-developed cart, and folding toolbar on a 3-pt hitch worked well for him, so this past year he purchased it.

Dusseldorp says he's probably the only farmer in the U.S. planting corn with a Morris system, but he expects that should change. Based in Saskatoon, Morris Manufacturing is looking for methods of distribution and pricing systems to effectively reach Midwest row-crop farmers.

Multi-tasking is a deciding factor, Dusseldorp says. “We don't drive fast, only 5 to 5.5 mph, but we still get a lot more done. Our 12 row can cover as much ground in a day as a 16 row that doesn't have a bulk system. With 180 bu. of capacity, we can accurately place all our fertilizer and seed at the same time and cover 90 acres or more before having to refill. Going with a high-nitrogen program limits our range between fills to 60 acres.”

Versatility is also a plus. “The system is a lot more than just a corn planter,” Dusseldorp says. “We can use the same air cart to sidedress urea after planting. Since urea is cheaper than liquid N, we save $4 to $5 an acre on fertilizer. That goes a long way toward helping pay for the machine. This fall, we're thinking about adding on a 35-ft. drill for planting wheat.”

Does the future belong to air carts? Or will more farmers want a version of Deere's central commodity system? The only certainty is that farmers will decide.

Flexi-Coil 9000, 8100
In 1999, Flexi-Coil made a big splash with its 9000 and 8100 air cart planting systems designed to plant corn and soybeans using double-disc openers and seed singulators. Case/New Holland (CNH) liked the idea so much that it bought the company. Now it remains to be seen how Flexi-Coil technology will be assimilated into the CNH common platform system. The Kinze-made planter finger pickup units will likely disappear. But look for a continuation of the “InterRow” concept, which allows growers to plant 12- or 24-row 30-in. corn and 23- or 36-row soybeans in either 40- or 60-ft. widths and yet fold to 1 2 ⅔ ft. for transport. A system that includes the 8100 planter and 1330 air cart starts at $70,470. Contact Flexi-Coil Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 3159, Minot, ND 58702, 701/858-5500, www.flexicoil.com.

Deere
Watch fall farm shows. That's probably when John Deere will introduce its new central commodity system on several new planters. The system promises to merge the best of air seeders and corn planters, without the use of an additional air cart.

White lift and rotate cart
White introduced its LR-20 and LR-30 lift and rotate carts as alternatives to expensive frame-fold planter designs. Fully loaded with 200-gal. liquid N tanks and tillage attachments, a 30-ft.-wide drill or planter is only 9 ft. 10 in. wide in transport mode. The carts come equipped with a 3-pt. quick hitch that makes pickup easy and allows the operator to change from road to field positions from the tractor seat. The unit's 10,000-lb. lift capacity can handle full-seed hoppers and optional liquid fertilizer tanks. Cart price: $15,000 to $17,500. Planter price: $21,00 for an 8-row unit to $33,600 for a 12-row flex planter. Contact AGCO Corp., 4205 River Green Parkway, Duluth, GA 30096, 770/813-9200, www.agcocorp.com.

Case IH 1200/New Holland SP580
The Case IH 1200 Pivot-Transport planter and its New Holland common platform partner the SP580 offer bulk fill options of two 30-bu. containers and a transport width of just 12 ½ ft. In-cab controls twist out the 12- or 16-row toolbar and retract the tongue in less than a minute. Price for the 12-row bulk machine is $65,016. Price for the 16-row bulk is $82,906. Contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 262/636-6011, www.caseih.com.

Morris Aero
Just entering the U.S. market, Morris's 12-row air-cart corn planting system can hold 7 tons of fertilizer and plant up to 100 acres before needing to be refilled. The air system feeds electric-clutch, ground-driven Kinze planter row units. A folding Morris toolbar connects to the air cart via a Cat. III 3-pt hitch. Transport width is 16 ft. 8 in. Price for a 12-row unit with 30-in. spacing, a 180-bu. tank, 12 fertilizer coulters and marker starts at $91,000. Contact Morris Mfg., Dept. FIN, 2131 Airport Dr., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7L 7E1, 306/933-8585, www.morris-industries.com.

Kinze 3650 Twin-Line
Kinze introduced its answer to bulk fill at farm shows last year. The folding, 11 ½-ft. narrow-transport system offers a choice of solid-row interplant or 600-gal. liquid fertilizer packages. Twin bulk seed hoppers have a 55-bu. capacity on 12-row planters and an 85-bu. capacity on 16-row units. Instead of air, the system uses nylon bristle-tipped, adjustable-speed augers that slowly elevate the seed from the bottom of the hopper to a PVC tube distribution manifold. The Kinze interplant system eliminates extra toolbars and allows planting either 15- or 30-in. rows. Price: $76,800 to $96,600. For more information, contact Kinze Mfg., Dept. FIN, I-80 at exit 216, Williamsburg, IA 52361-0806, 319/668-1300, www.kinzemfg.com.