It's Usually a tense time between when you plant corn and when you can first “row” a field to see what kind of job you did. That changed for some farmers in 2008 when they switched to the 20/20 SeedSense monitor from Precision Planting.

More than a population monitor, this GPS-linked unit displays overall planter performance for population, singulation, speed, vacuum pressure and down force. A tap of the screen gives you row-by-row readouts to help track planting errors that cost you money.

The monitor will even show you how many dollars per acre you're losing when the planter isn't adjusted correctly. It's the electronic equivalent of a planter test stand on each row unit, as you plant.

In 2008, the monitor measured and displayed down pressure per row so the operator could adjust planter down pressure to changing soil conditions. This year an owner can add the AirForce 20/20 package to adjust down pressure automatically.

On-the-go information

“It's ominous to go out there and plant $200,000 worth of seed and wait until it comes up to see what happened,” says Scott McPheeters, Gothenburg, NE. “It's nice to know what's going right, but it's better to know what's going wrong. With other monitors, we never knew the difference. Now we know when we're losing yield and can adjust for it.”

Steve Berning of Warrenville, IL, installed the monitor on his 12-row Kinze 3600 Interplant planter. Some Kinze planters, like Berning's, require an additional wiring harness to be compatible with the 20/20 SeedSense monitor.

The basic 20/20 SeedSense system includes a monitor, GPS receiver, processor, row-unit modules and down-force sensors. The number of row-unit modules and down-force sensors required depends on planter size and user preference.

“I use the monitor for beans also, but I get a lot less information,” Berning says. “With soybeans, it functions as a population monitor and I still use its GPS capabilities and enter all the field data.”

Faster planting

The monitor proved to Berning that he could plant faster than he thought, without losing yield, and also made him more aware of a field condition's effect on planting accuracy.

“I used to plant at 5 mph, but the monitor showed I could plant at 6 mph without losing yield. That's a 20% increase in planting capacity,” he says.

“I stopped more often to make adjustments last year, because I never stopped before. I used to just blindly put seed in the ground, say a prayer and go. With the monitor I was able to eliminate doubles by adjusting the brushes and I learned a lot about field conditions for optimum planting.”

The 20/20 SeedSense monitor also helped Berning make management decisions during the press of a narrow planting window. “If there's a rain event on the way and I want to plant faster to finish a field, I know what it's costing me,” he says. “I can weigh the loss of planting too fast to the planting delay a rain will cost.”

Effect of seed size

DeKalb, IL, farmer Roger Faivre admits that he was skeptical that the 20/20 SeedSense monitor would make enough of a difference to justify its cost ($5,600, retail price). He's glad now that he took the opportunity to test one last spring on his 16-row John Deere 7200 planter.

“It made us more aware of how we set the planter when we change hybrids with different seed sizes and shapes,” Faivre says. “If we can get even a 2% increase in population accuracy, the monitor will pay for itself in a year.”

Like Faivre, McPheeters discovered the effect of seed size and weight and vacuum pressure with the information displayed by the 20/20 SeedSense unit. “We had some issues with vacuum pressure that resulted in our wing units planting 32,000 seeds while the center section planted 31,000,” McPheeters says. “We got an instant visual with the bar graph of what was going on.”

In a perfect world, McPheeters says, the monitor would automatically adjust each row for down pressure and vacuum. “It would also be nice if the monitor would interface easily with the monitors in our field sprayer and combine,” he says. He'd also like a simpler way to turn off row units with error messages — an issue that the company is addressing.

Although the monitor won't interface with other monitors, Hinckley, IL, farmer and Precision Planting representative Bob Strand mounts it in the tractor cab as he side-dresses corn with liquid fertilizer, controlled by a Raven monitor.

“I make the decision on how the planter did when the corn is knee high,” Strand says. “With the 20/20 SeedSense monitor set in replay mode, I can pull up the planting data as I side-dress. If there's a problem with the stand, I can check the monitor to see what was going on at that spot of the field at planting.”

Strand tested beta versions of the monitor, and it took him awhile to become a believer. “I questioned it originally, but now it's the gospel,” he says. “The proof for me was one field we have that's always a problem. Last spring the monitor kept telling me everything was okay, which I refused to believe. But when I went back to side-dress that field, the stand was perfect.”

Upgrades

The monitor will have some significant upgrades in 2009, according to Brad Wiegand, Precision Planting's technical lead for the 20/20 SeedSense monitor. In 2009, users with a cell phone modem will be able to download software updates from the Web.

“You'll be able to input four different hybrids rather than two, and you'll be able to input plant populations for individual rows, which will make the unit more versatile for hybrid seed corn producers,” he says.

Growers with CNH model 1200 and 1250 planters will be able to use 20/20 SeedSense monitors in 2009. Last year the monitor was available for John Deere, Kinze, White and Great Plains planters.

With the ability to connect directly to the Internet, the farmer's monitors will be able to be tracked at the Precision Planting's home office in Tremont, IL. “If a grower has a problem he can't figure out, we can remotely view his monitor and help diagnose problems as if we're in the tractor cab,” Wiegand explains.

The 20/20 AirForce will be available in 2009 as an option to automatically control down force. “In 2008, farmers had the knowledge, for the first time, of how much down pressure their planter had and how it affected planting performance,” Wiegand says. “In 2009, they can equip their planter to adjust automatically to changing field conditions.”

Tests conducted by the company show that too much down force can reduce yield more than 40 bu. on heavy soils, according to Wiegand. “We ran down-pressure tests in 2007 that showed if you had one notch too much down pressure on heavy ground it reduced yields 15 bu. Two notches too heavy cut yields by 43 bu.”

The basic price of the AirForce system is $3,000, but the final figure depends on what size and what kind of planter you own. An additional cost per row could be $0, or up to $300, according to Wiegand.

For more information, contact Precision Planting, Dept. FIN, 23207 Townline Rd., Tremont, IL 61568, 309/925-5050, visit www.precisionplanting.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 101.