With the push of a button, the belt turns and soybeans drop through demonstration meters. Curious farmers watch, wondering if the equipment really does what it's supposed to do.

New innovations in drill meters are improving the way soybeans are seeded. The belt meter, demonstrated at many farm shows, allows seeds to enter the belt one at a time, then drops each seed individually. The belt meter, which could replace old fluted meters, is designed to pinpoint populations.

Soybean drills typically don't deliver accurate seeding rates, says Stephen Hawkins, assistant director of Purdue Agricultural Centers, West Lafayette, IN. A handful of seeds can drop in one place, a couple in another and none in other spots. “The cast-iron fluted feed system is basically 100-year-old technology,” he says.

Unless farmers measure the seed drop from each seed tube, they don't know how poorly some drills perform, Hawkins says. Purdue researchers used hand-held global positioning system units to take stand counts. Hawkins was shocked to learn the seeding rates varied as much as 45% above or below the intended seeding rates across a 15-ft. drill — even if the drill was calibrated.

Recognizing the shortcomings in the present seeding systems, retired John Deere engineer Wally Romans of Ankeny, IA, invented the belt meter.

“With Roundup Ready soybeans costing $24-28 a bag, farmers want to be assured of what they're putting in the ground,” says Romans.

Indiana farmer Doug Sigman figures he was overseeding by 10-15% before he began using the belt meter.

“It was hard to get a handle on seeding rates when you'd change varieties or seed size, because the old metering system was hard to re-adjust,” he says. Sigman, who farms 1,900 acres near West Lafayette, IN, figures the $1,850 retrofit paid off within a year.

To retrofit the drill, the fluted feed meters were removed and belt meters installed. A transmission replaces the gears on the end of the drill. The seeding rate is increased or decreased by changing the size of the sprockets.

Purdue's Hawkins started using belt meters to precisely replicate seeding rates on five research farms.

The meters maintain even seed counts regardless of seed size, Hawkins says. He estimates farmers can save $4-10/acre in seed costs by not overplanting.

“When we found we had something that could singulate seed, we got excited — if you could get excited about something like planting seed,” Hawkins chuckles.

The belt meter fits John Deere, Great Plains and Case IH grain drills and is available from S.I. Distributing Inc., 03221 Barber-Werner Rd., St. Marys, OH 45885. Call 800-368-7773 or check it out on the Web at www.sidist.com.