Accuracy. Efficiency. Those two words have become the modern farmer's mantra for success. Competition to be the lowest-cost producer makes them critical production components.
Or, as Waverly, NE, farmer Greg Carlson puts it, “I want to farm as cheaply as possible without sacrificing yield.” That's the reason he no-tills his corn and soybeans. And why he pieced together a one-pass planter that puts down herbicide, insecticide and anhydrous ammonia fertilizer (NH3) simultaneously.
“It's all about accuracy,” he says. “I put insecticide down in a T-band so it spreads out on each side of the corn row to control cutworms and wireworms. I broadcast a pre-emerge herbicide behind the planter. Where I need to, I come back with a post treatment.”
Carlson chose an Exactrix anhydrous system that allows him to band NH3 between his 30" rows without damaging the crop. “I've been hiring a custom applicator to put down anhydrous in the fall. When I first looked at this system, I considered it an alternative for the future,” he says. “Then I realized I could save at least $20/acre and decided I couldn't afford to wait.”
The Exactrix system injects liquid NH3 directly into the soil, allowing application just 4" deep without losing product.
The 8-row planter Carlson had been using was swapped for a 12-row, 30" Kinze planter that doubles as a 23-row, 15" soybean planter. Carlson uses the splitter units instead of knives to place anhydrous.
“I ran a ¼" line down to a Keaton seed firmer so the anhydrous goes in just ahead of the closing wheels. I mounted Bourgault fertilizer banding units on the outside of the end rows and applied a half rate through those,” he says. “I can put on the NH3 when the plant needs it, without losing any product.”
Carlson gets excited when he talks about the system's efficiency. “I've got one machine for both corn and soybeans,” he says. “I can afford to update it when I need to because I can spread the costs over 1,600 acres that I farm by myself.”
Just across the Missouri River in Iowa Chad, Kris and Tom Eitmann have found similar efficiencies. “We had come to a crossroads where we needed to change to either strip-till or narrow rows to get more efficient,” says Chad Eitmann. The brothers chose narrow rows and bought a 24-row, 20" White planter for no-till.
Like Carlson, the Eitmanns liked the idea of placing NH3 as they planted. The Council Bluffs, IA, farmers added an Exactrix unit and a second tool bar to their planter, and mounted FSO seeding units to place NH3 between the rows.
“We added a beaver tail to the FSO units that moves the injection point underneath the closing wheels,” says Eitmann. “The units are set so the closing wheel of the FSO units runs just ahead of the trash whippers on the planter units. We don't have any problems with plugging.
“With spring application we can cut our NH3 rates back to 90 lbs of N,” he adds. “In addition, we put on 3 gallons of 10-34-0, 3 gallons of 32% plus a ¼ lb of zinc. We band dry P and K in the fall on 20" centers with some sulfur and zinc mixed in.”
It's tough to argue with the results. In addition to efficiency, the Eitmanns have seen yields improve, too. “Since we switched to this system, we've raised some of the best corn we've ever had,” says Eitmann. “In 2002, we had areas that hit 260 bu with whole field averages above 200 bu/acre.”
At Clatonia, NE, Steve Wiese built a similar planter designed to even out the yield variability of his fields.
Wiese and farming partner John Schuerman face plenty of variability on their 2,500-acre operation. “Wherever we've got good bottom ground, we've got rough hills right beside it,” Wiese says.
“A number of technologies fell together at the same time that make my system work,” he says. “I use the Exactrix system for anhydrous application while I plant, and vary the rate using a Computrol monitor. We farm highly compactable soils, so we no-till corn and soybeans to eliminate trips across the field.”
Wiese has fall-application concerns with NH3. Environmental regulations already prohibit the practice on two of his farms. That situation swayed his decision to place NH3 as he planted.
“Our original focus with the new system was cutting back seed populations and fertilizer on low-producing areas of fields. On alkali spots, we cut seed and nitrogen rates in half without losing any yield,” he says. “But our yield monitor soon showed us that the real potential was increasing inputs on the high-yielding areas of fields.
“I think we have some ‘Francis Childs’-type soils in our fields. It may only be 10% of the field, but in those areas we're going to start setting our yield goal at 200-plus bushels,” he says.
When Wiese built his planting system, he traded his 8-row planter for a 16-row, 30" Kinze. He added the Exactrix anhydrous unit, a second toolbar in front of the planter and bolted on Bourgault seeding units to place NH3 between rows. “We replaced the seed tube with an injection point to get the anhydrous where we want it,” he says.