Scott Lasater wanted to convert his 24-row White planter from manual switches controlling planting to an automatic system linked to GPS. But he didn't want to go to the expense of installing air clutches for each row because he didn't know how long he'd be keeping the planter.

So Lasater, of Gaston, IN, turned to nearby Elite Ag Solutions in Warren, IN, to find a solution. Elite Ag sells, services and supports precision ag products from several companies, including Ag Leader, Trimble, Norac, Orthman, Dickey-john and Vanguard.

Elite Ag recommended Lasater install a Trimble FmX-integrated display to automate the planter on-off function and at the same time consolidate controllers. “We chose FmX because it's compatible with Lasater's planter and his other systems,” says Aaron Hacker, manager of Elite Ag Solutions.

LASATER'S PLANTER USES an air-pressure system (not a vacuum system common on other brands of planters) to meter the seed, so it uses solenoids to turn the control valves on and off when planting by section (four sections of six rows each). He was able to hook the four control valves into the FmX. “Other competitive systems use an air clutch control for individual rows,” says Hacker. “We couldn't use them and also use the planter's existing air pressure system.

How much did Lasater save by using the planter's existing air-pressure system? “It costs $375-400/row to install automated clutches on each row of a planter,” says Hacker. “If you control by sections, such as in Lasater's planter, which has four sections of six rows each, you can get the cost down to $2,000-3,000 to set up an entire 24-row planter.”

Those costs can be recovered from both seed savings and corn standability. “Farmers who install automatic row controllers linked to GPS save a minimum of 5% on their seed cost, and some are saving as much as 10% in fields with a lot of point rows,” says Hacker.

“There were seed savings,” Lasater says. “But what I noticed most was how much easier it was to combine the fields this past fall. The planter overplanted a foot at most this year, compared to up to five or more feet on some point rows in the past.

“The only lodged and down corn we had this year was where there were planting overlaps,” he says. “Reducing overlaps as we did with the automatic system really cut down on the amount of down corn along point and end rows, and that made for faster combining, which was especially important this past fall.”

FmX was a new system, and Elite Ag had to program the offset distance between the location of the GPS unit on the tractor and the planter seed drops into the system. Another bug to resolve was to program in the lag time between when the planter clutches stop and start and when the seed actually stops and starts being planted.

“These offsets and lag times must be programmed individually for each planter combination,” says Hacker. “We also had to work through supplying enough power to the valve solenoids so they would respond in a timely manner.”