When South Dakota State University Plant Scientist Peter Sexton needed a new row-crop planter at the Southeast Research Farm Agricultural Experiment Station near Beresford, S.D., he looked to the future—in terms of equipment and networking.
With support from the Southeast Experiment Farm board, the nonprofit growers' corporation that owns the farm, Sexton and SDSU forged a partnership with Sioux Falls-based Raven Industries and DuPont Pioneer. Their collaboration resulted in a twin-row planter with the ability to automatically switch hybrids while seeding on-the-go based on GPS mapping of the field.
There are various companies and public institutions working on multi-hybrid planter development. Having one engineered and planting crops in 2013 is testament to the value and ingenuity of this collaborative effort in identifying innovative solutions for the future of agriculture, contends SDSU Extension spokespersons.
The First Step
The project was initiated in spring 2012, when Sexton sought advice from the Southeast Experiment Farm board—which is comprised of area farmers—regarding the need for a new planter. Though SDSU staffs the farm, "the board plays a valuable role in our decision-making," Sexton explained. Proceeds from the farm go to the corporation, which then reinvests them into research.
"We've got a good relationship," said Sexton. The board agreed that a precision planter with the capability of planting multiple hybrids was the way to go. Kurt Reitsma, SDSU Extension field specialist, then arranged for Raven Industries engineers to meet with the board.
They determined that the most logical choice was a twin-row configuration and the Monosem planter, which had a three-point hitch that the Beresford facility required, would be the platform from which to work, Sexton explains.
The Southeast Research Farm corporation purchased the planter and the board provided funds for the raw materials needed to customize the planter. "Without their support, this project wouldn't have happened," Sexton said.
Raven Retrofits Planter
Through an agreement signed in the summer of 2012, Raven donated the engineering time to customize the planter. Sexton described what he wanted the planter to do and then Raven engineers developed those capabilities.
"This is a great model of industry partnering with public entities," said Raven Industries Product Manager Douglas Prairie, citing his company's emphasis on innovation. Sexton gave Raven engineers feedback as they developed the hydraulic drives, control system and software to modify the Monosem planter.
"It was fun to watch the excitement on the part of the engineering team," Prairie adds. "They saw such a great purpose and vision in what they were accomplishing."
When the planter was used initially in the spring of 2013, Raven engineers worked on-site to make adjustments and get feedback from Sexton and the research farm staff.
The development phase was kept under wraps until patents were filed and the system was unveiled by Raven at a June 2013 trade show demonstration. Raven also showed off the prototype planter at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.
"We have far exceeded where I thought this product would be today," Prairie said. The multi-hybrid switching system, controls and software are now commercially available.
DuPont Pioneer Supplies Hybrids
In addition to the fields planted at the Southeast Research Farm, test plots were sown on private farms near Parkston, Tripp, Lennox and Baltic.
To select the appropriate corn and soybean hybrids for the fields that SDSU mapped, Sexton turned to DuPont Pioneer.
For low-lying areas, Sexton wanted a hybrid that could stand what he calls "wet feet." It needed to have a horizontal root profile and be resistant to fungi to combat wetness it would experience in May and June. However, for the high areas, Sexton sought a variety with deep, vertical roots to reach for moisture when drought-stressed in August.
Pioneer agreed to supply the seed and made recommendations, according to DuPont Pioneer Agronomy Research Manager Barry Anderson. The data from this research will "give us a chance to understand how our products perform," he explained. "It's nice when we as a seed industry can team up not only with the university but also with manufacturers. That doesn't always happen."
The first crops planted with the new machine were harvested in October 2013 and the data is now being analyzed.
Shaping The Future
The information gleaned from field trials planted using this first-of-its-kind multi-hybrid planter will allow SDSU researchers to produce agronomic data that will help farmers decide what to plant, where to plant it, and how much to plant, as well as when and how much pesticide and fertilizer to apply, according to Sexton.
SDSU will also be able to provide agronomic and financial reasons why farmers should consider using a multi-hybrid approach to planting, according to Prairie. Eventually, Raven Industries seeks to play a role in "designing a true multi-hybrid planter."
Additionally, this project has paved the way for further collaboration between Raven and SDSU—a partnership with the Research Park at South Dakota State University has been announced among the three entities to further concentrate on precision agriculture innovations.
Looking forward, as companies develop seed hybrids for specific growing environments, Sexton anticipates planters that use this type of precision technology will become commonplace. "What gets commercialized may look different but the basic ability to switch between lines on the go, I think, is part of the future."