Ready for action
The planting technology needed to seed variable rates is readily available and being adopted rapidly across the Corn Belt. A majority of new planters purchased in recent years have the hydraulic drives necessary to change seeding rates on the fly. Newer planters and aftermarket drive systems are breaking planters into smaller sections — down to single rows in some cases — for even more refined prescription planting capability. The latest navigation and seed control systems also are up to the task of infinitely altering seeding rates.
Farmers are rapidly testing the waters with these new variable-rate capabilities. A 2009 survey conducted by Pioneer Hi-Bred confirms the rapid adoption of variable-rate seeding. It showed that 20% of Corn Belt farmers with 1,000-plus acres were planting at least some of their acres at variable rates — double the percentage using the practice the previous year. In 2009, more than a third of 1,000-plus-acre farmers owned planters with variable-rate seeding capability, according to the survey.
This rapid acquisition of variable-rate-capable planters is butting up against limited research on how to profitably vary seeding rates. This has some researchers concerned that using the technology too aggressively early on could be a mistake.