Bigger may not automatically translate into better; but if and when the situation calls for it, adding some size can make a lot of sense.
That’s Chris Hong’s philosophy when it comes to planter capacity. In the spring of 2012, Hong Farms, based at Buxton, N.D., used three 48-row planters to put in their sugarbeet, corn, soybean and edible bean crops. The three Deere DB88 48R22s covered about 17,000 acres last spring, including 7,400 acres of beets.
The Hongs aren’t the only large growers in the Red River Valley and Southern Minnesota sugarbeet region to employ 48-row planters, but that group is obviously the exception rather than the rule. It comes down to needing to cover a lot of ground during the region’s typically short row-crop planting window — and doing so with less manpower and fewer tractors than these operations would otherwise need. It also comes down to the size, shape and terrain of many of the region’s fields: large, rectangular and flat.
The Hong units are equipped with Martin row cleaners, along with several features from Precision Planting, Inc., including 20/20 AirForce® for automatic measurement and management of down force, the 20/20 SeedSense® monitor system, and eSet® vacuum metering. They also have Deere’s iGuide implement guidance and RowCommand™ individual row control systems, plus Keeton seed firmers. For 2013, the Hongs are adding Martin Spading-Closing wheels to help minimize furrow sidewall compaction.
Prior to 2009, the Hongs — Chris, brother Curt and father Scott — had been running three 24-row planters across their row-crop acreage. They needed more capacity for their expanding operation, “but instead of getting another 24-row, we went with two 48s,” Chris explains. That freed up two planter operators for other duties and also negated the need for two planter tractors.
By the following year, however, they decided to add a 24-row planter. Then, in 2012, seeing a need to once again expand their planting capacity, they sold the 24-row, opting for a third 48-row unit. They also traded in the two original 48-rows — so ended up using three new DB88s last spring.
Chris says they can cover 45-50 acres per hour with each DB88, depending on ground speed. In the spring of 2010, when a wet weather system was rolling in, he seeded about 1,750 acres in a 48-hour period with one of the planters. “So I have definitely put it to the test,” he affirms. They typically pull the large planters with John Deere 8360R tractors, although they have, in a couple instances, substituted their Case IH 550 Quadtrac under wetter planting conditions.
Left: Chris Hong (right) visits with his American Crystal Sugar agriculturist, Tim Leshuk, during the 2012 planting season. “Considering the amount of acres, coupled with varying day-to-day field conditions, Chris, Curt and Scott do a nice job with stand establishment,” Leshuk observes. “We’ve been shooting for higher plant populations recently, and it’s been a rare occasion to go out in one of their fields and find less than 200 emerged beets per 100 feet of row.”
While the Hongs rarely operate all three 48-row planters within the same field, it has occurred. On one occasion, they planted a quarter section of edible beans in a period of about 45 minutes.
The most common question he gets from other growers, Chris relates, is about the size of their headlands — 96 rows on each end. “But that hasn’t really been an issue for us,” he says. “We’ve been doing it for four years now and are accustomed to it. Actually, during harvest, it’s nice to have that extra room to maneuver all the trucks and other equipment.”
There’s also the matter of planting that last group of rows on a field when there are just a dozen or two left. “With the 48-row, I just overlap where I’ve already seeded,” Chris notes. “I move over accordingly with the GPS, shut off those already-seeded rows (his updated RowCommand shuts off in four-row sections), and just drive over them. Some people probably think driving over what has already been seeded would hurt crop emergence there, but I haven’t seen that happen.” The shut-off also, of course, means he’s not applying starter fertilizer a second time to those affected rows.
The 48-row units’ planting capacity has another benefit, Hong says — one that, at first glance, may seem contradictory to the stated goal of getting the crop in as expeditiously as possible. “”With a bigger machine, there is a little less pressure to drive too fast,” he points out. “You don’t have to be pushing them to the max all the time. Going a little slower results in a better stand — especially with beets and corn.
“You only have one chance to put the crop in, so you want to do it right. Doesn’t matter whether you have 500 acres or 5,000.”
The 48-row planter “is a good fit for us,” Chris concludes. “If you have an operator who can run a 24-row planter, he can run a 48-row, with all the precision tools that are on these units.”
Given the size of the Hong operation as of 2012/13, Chris doesn’t have as much tractor time as he once did. “But one thing I still do is plant,” he says.
“I enjoy it. These are my ‘babies.’ The first step in getting a good crop is planting it right, and that’s what these machines do.” — Don Lilleboe
Don Lilleboe is editor of 'The Sugarbeet Grower' and 'Gilmore Sugar Manual.'