Planting has come a long way from the days of scattering seeds on the ground and hoping for the best. For two decades, Randy Taylor has paid close attention to new farm equipment technology, especially planters.
Taylor is assistant director of agriculture programs at Oklahoma State University. Previously an extension machinery specialist at OSU and Kansas State University, Taylor tracked new farm technology and its impact on agriculture, including advancements that tilt the productivity odds in the farmer’s favor.
He reflects on how planter technology has evolved and gives his predictions on what’s coming.
Q: How has planter technology advanced in the past few years?
A: The thing about precision-agriculture technology is that it’s been more evolution than revolution. Drive technology went from sprockets and chains to shafts to hydraulic motors. Now we have electric-drive motors on each row unit. The biggest technologies for planters and other ag equipment now are the electronics and control systems.
Q: How does this technology stack up with previous innovations?
A: Over the history of ag machinery, there have been a few game changers. Rubber tires, hydraulics as a remote power source, cabs, other ergonomic controls. The current game changer is electronic control systems. Our equipment has gotten so much bigger that you really can’t run a planter that’s 24 or 48 rows without good electronic controls.
Q: What is the next evolution of planter technology?
A: We now use technology of down-force management, variable-rate seeding and section control. We’re moving toward a sense-and-react, autonomous planter that adjusts as it moves through the field. These fully automated planters will make adjustments to everything we are doing to optimize seed placement so we get that ideal planting pass in all areas of the field.
Q: How important is planter technology to a farm operation?
A: Technology is good, but don’t ignore the building blocks. The most important place to focus is on planter maintenance. The timeliness of that planting pass is where farmers put most of their attention. They spend a lot of time looking at the technology that gives them the capacity to do what they want, when they want.
Q: Are farmers widely adopting the technology?
A: Farmers might buy a planter that has technology they don’t want because it’s packaged with something they do want. They may not plan to use capacity like variable-rate technology at first, but once they’ve got the technology, most will put it to use.