Units Improve Ease & Accuracy of Calibration
Back in 2004, University of Nebraska-Scottsbluff agricultural engineer John Smith and his colleagues added an extra dimension to the UN electronic planter test stand program. The new feature consisted of an “electronic photogate” and corresponding software that provided growers with graphic printouts of their planter units’ seed drop accuracy on a side-to-side basis as well as the standard front-to-back distance spacing.
UN-Scottbluff's Ultra Test Stand. Photo: John Smith
The photogate was a supplement to — not a replacement for — the standard grease belt method. But while the grower and test stand operator still viewed the seeds as they dropped onto the grease belt, the resulting seed spacing histogram was a more-accurate reflection of overall planter unit performance.
As innovative as that development was nine years ago, it’s now “history” in the Western Sugar Cooperative (WSC) growing region. In 2009, Smith (who has since retired from the university) procured a MeterMax® Ultra test stand manufactured by Illinois-based Precision Planting, Inc. The Ultra is able to calibrate meters for virtually any of the planter models used by the region’s beet growers (e.g., John Deere MaxEmerge, John Deere 71 Flex [with an adapter developed by Smith], Case IH, Kinze, Monosem, White, Great Plains). That same year, Western Sugar agriculturists ran the Ultra side by side with the computerized grease belt for comparison.
The complete transition away from the grease belt happened quickly. “In 2010 we used the Ultra solely,” says Terry Butcher, Scottsbluff-based WSC senior agriculturist. “That worked OK; but we soon realized we couldn’t get all the planter meters tested with just one test stand.” So for 2011 the Western Sugar Cooperative-Grower Joint Research Committee invested in three Ultra test stands in order to adequately cover the region’s needs. One of the Ultras is used exclusively in the northern growing area (Lovell, Wyo., and Billings, Mont., factory districts). The other two — working together — cover western Nebraska and northeastern Colorado.
Response from the region’s sugarbeet producers has been enthusiastic. “In most of our areas, we will have around 90% participation by our growers,” Butcher reports. He estimates that about half of the growers also bring in seed tubes to be tested for wear and performance.
Nick Lapaseotes is a grower and farm implement dealer (21st Century Equipment) from Bridgeport, Neb. He also is the new chairman of Western Sugar Cooperative. “As a partner in 21st Century Equipment, we have been involved since when they bought the first [Ultra],” Lapaseotes notes. “The stands are set up at some of our dealership locations, and we have parts on hand so they can replace what is needed on site. Also, as a grower, I used it the first year and have since.”
Lapaseotes is a strong proponent of every seed meter — and at least some seed tubes — being tested with the MeterMax Ultra. “Since we began doing this, I have seen our planters work a lot better — from improved seed placement to vacuum psi being more consistent,” he says. “We have seen our seed units test at the ‘high 90s%’ accuracy level. I’ve also taken new seed units when we trade planters and [have been] surprised how a knockout wheel or a new gasket doesn’t seal right.
“I wouldn’t put a planter in the field in the spring without testing the seed units and seed tubes.”
Western Sugar agriculturists Terry Butcher (left) and Carl Lux calibrate a planter meter. Photo: T. Butcher
In comparing the grease-belt method with the Ultra, John Smith lists several benefits to the Precision Planting unit:
• It is much smaller and easier to transport between locations.
• Set-up is quick (15 minutes or so, compared to about a half hour with
the grease belt); also, there’s no oil on hands, clothes or the floor.
• The Ultra provides numerical results rather than a subjective “OK” or “not OK” visual evaluation.
• Growers can take home a performance printout, if desired.
• The Ultra provides numerical information on skips, multiples and accuracy of seed spacing of “good” spacings, as well as a visual histogram of all seed spacings within a given run.
• And finally, it’s very accurate.
Terry Butcher adds a couple more: “It’s not necessary to bring the seed hoppers in (all you need is the meter): and, lastly but just as important, is the ability of the Ultra to measure the torque needed to turn the meter.”
“I think it is reasonable to estimate, in general, that accurate plant spacing resulting from accurate planter performance contributes one ton per acre of harvested yield,” Smith observes. “Good plant spacing does not just ‘happen.’ The planter test stand clinics that WSC — and other sugarbeet cooperatives — have conducted over the years have contributed highly to this outcome. The Ultra just makes this task easier, faster and more accurate, to keep up with the faster and more-accurate planters we have today — and to provide the best match of seed configuration, plate options, vacuum options, singulator adjustment options, etc.” — Don Lilleboe
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower