Automated on-off controls have allowed Clay Mitchell, Buckingham, IA, to virtually eliminate seed overlap since 2007. That's when he installed independent air clutches on every row of his 12-row planter. Guided by a RTK sub-inch accuracy global positioning system (GPS), Mitchell's row-by-row planter controls have also helped to boost yields where double-planting had previously caused harvest headaches, he says.

“With seed costs so high compared to other input costs, we need to be careful about seed overlap,” says Mitchell, who uses Tru Count air clutches with a Trimble Field Manager controller to prevent double planting.

“Depending on what traits you want, seed costs are now between $60 and $100/acre, even with discounts. For farms with a lot of grass waterways and irregularly shaped fields like we have, seed overlap would normally run about 5% of total acres. So, the savings can add up pretty quickly,” Mitchell says.

Row-by-row planter controls are the next logical step after previous investments in RTK GPS on-off controls for sprayers and fertilizer applications, notes Mitchell. “Like the added precision to other areas of our operation, this just adds to our precision with seed control,” he says. “The big thing is that where we would normally have point rows and double planting, now we don't.”

A payoff from more precise seed delivery is proving even greater than what some earlier RTK GPS equipment investments offer, adds Mitchell. “Compared to an overlap with fertilizer, there's not as big a downside as there is when we overlap with seed,” he says. “An overlap with fertilizer doesn't hurt yields, but if we overlap with seed, we get about half the yield and double the lodging and harvest-ability problems.”

The improved on-off seed dispensing technology also hastens planting operations, says Mitchell. “With RTK and our row-by-row planter controls, we can speed through point rows all over the place and not have any overlap,” he says. “This way, we can plant the field how we really want to plant it without worrying about the point rows slowing us down during planting or causing lodging at harvest.”

A MUCH QUICKER and easier harvest also results from the reduction in seed overlap, emphasizes Mitchell. “The biggest cost from seed overlap is the reduced yields in those areas, and second is the cost from slowdowns that it causes you at harvest,” he says. “When you have a lot of lodging from seed overlap, it can jam up your corn head and bring your harvest to a standstill.”

Adding automated seed control to a planter will likely provide a quick payback for almost any operation, says Dennis Smith, who grows continuous corn near Ames, IA. “I think the air clutches are one of the fastest paybacks you could ever find on the farm, especially with the way the prices of seed are nowadays,” says Smith, who operates Tru Count air clutches on a 24-row, bulk-fill White planter. “The technology is very affordable — for us, the payback was within a couple of years.”

How soon the seed control technology pays for itself depends on a farm's shape and size, says Smith. “We have large square fields, so the seed savings might not be as much as they would be for somebody else,” he says. “However, even people with square or rectangular fields are still benefiting from this technology by gaining acres per day in speed, both at planting and at harvest.”

For long straight fields, speed — more-so than seed savings — is the main appeal to the automatic planter controls, says Smith. “This technology really helps to speed up planting, because you don't have to stop or slow down at the headlands,” he says. “By eliminating seed overlap, you also pick up a yield boost and speed up harvest.

“Before, wherever we had seed overlap, the yields were almost nothing and the corn was almost non-harvestable, due to the double stalks and lodging problems,” adds Smith, who operated his air clutches manually with toggle switches the first year he tried them. “Now, we're shutting off the planters automatically on both the headlands and the point rows.”

Rather than using single-row control, Smith uses a three-row-per-section configuration to control seed drop. “With our three-row configuration, we've now eliminated 95% of overlap situations,” he says. “A two-row configuration would probably be better, but we have fairly square fields, so this is fine for now. I'll probably go to a two- or one-row configuration with the next planter I buy.”

SMITH PLANTS ALL of his corn acres to continuous corn and says he's pleased with how the new planter controls have performed in very challenging, high-residue situations. “The air clutches have been reliable,” he says. “We haven't had any breakdowns or difficulties with them in the three years we've used them.”

The on-off controls that prevent double planting also work well with a zone-tillage system, says Smith, who deep-tills a 6-8-in. strip in the fall while applying phosphorus and potassium. In the spring, he applies nitrogen and does some shallow tillage in a 10-in. strip ahead of planting.

“We use the Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) Soil Warrior technology for applying plant nutrients,” he says. “We ran one of their test machines and now have three full years' experience with it.

“The benefit to the Soil Warrior is that it a great system for use with corn on corn,” adds Smith. “Every year we move over 15 in., plant between the rows and still leave a good amount of soil residue on the soil surface. So, it's good for soil conservation, soil health and yield.”

The increased precision in nutrient placement enhances the increased precision in seed placement, says Smith.