A farmer talking to Corn Illustrated recently said he wouldn't buy a new planter right now even if he needed one. Why? Because he believes that planters that can switch hybrids on the go will be reality in the not-so-distant future. Once that happens, he believes resale value of fairly new planters without that technology will drop.
His idea of 'not-so-distant' future is within two years. That may be rather optimistic. Who knows if machinery companies are even looking at possible designs that would enable planters to do that? It's a safe bet, however, that they have at least heard about it and are paying attention. They will be watching to see what happens in testing this year and next.
Jason Webster at Beck's Hybrids Practical Farm Research station near Downs , Ill., rebuilt a Kinze planter so that he could switch hybrids on the go last year. He basically altered the row pattern of a split-row planter. When hybrids shifted the new hybrid was planted with the other set of row units, 15 inches off the row. All rows shifted 15 inches.
Through elaborate tests, he claims he saw a yield advantage, a rather sizable one with one hybrid and a smaller one with another hybrid. His soils are more uniform at his location than at many areas in the Corn Belt so someone else might see an even larger response. However, that's purely speculation. He will continue testing this year.
Meanwhile, Monsanto has hinted for at least three years now that being able to switch hybrids on the go might help get the most from data collected through precision farming that specifies what should be done on each micro-area of the field. They are also doing testing and collecting data on various things, including plant populations and row width comparisons.
Not everyone is ready to buy into the change hybrid on-the-go theory. Dave Nanda, a plant breeder and now Director of Genetics and technology for Seed Consultants, Inc., says that there are so many variables that affect yield that he's not sure changing hybrids on-the-go would be that easy to do. He's not talking about the mechanics of it – Webster has already shown that can be overcome. He's talking about having enough of a knowledge base about each hybrid to know where one hybrid should be placed over another.
Nevertheless, watch for this to be a hot trend for discussion over the next several months. This year's testing may go a long ways toward determining if interest remains high in the new planter concept or not.