Twin-row planting has enjoyed success by some growers over the years but hasn't reached widespread acceptance. This is despite tests comparing twin-row to single 30-inch rows indicating twin rows can out-yield many single-row crops and produce comparable yields to ultra-narrow row and narrow systems.
A veteran producer in Alliance, Neb., has been watching his brother become successful with twin-row crop production in strip-till over the past few years, so last spring, Brian Jelinek decided it was time to follow brother Jim's lead, planting his sunflower, corn and dry edible bean crops in twin rows. He also grows millet, sugar beets and wheat over about 3,000 acres in Box Butte County, Neb.
"My brother started going into twin-row planting. He was successful with it. I liked the idea, just not the equipment, especially with planting dry beans," Brian Jelinek said.
"I've been exploring the idea of twin rows for three or four years. We strip-till for the erosion benefits. Our soils here in western Nebraska are very sandy and--with the winds--hard to control. Strip-till allows us to do some tillage while maintaining some erosion control. You still need tillage for sugar beets and the like because you need good seed contact with the soil."
What Jelinek used to accomplish his twin-row plantings was the use of a one-of-a-kind planter he designed last year.
Jelinek called on Environmental Tillage Systems of Faribault, Minn., to custom build a 60-foot-long toolbar mounted with 24 John Deere twin-row planting units. Also included on this custom planter are Yetter trash managers, and a seed and fertilizer delivery system in the form of an ETS SeedWarrior central-fill cart.
"I knew I liked the concept of a John Deere planter," Jelinek said. "They had just released their own version of a twin-row planter, which was a three-stack fold, 38-inch center unit. I liked the design, but they didn't have a 30-inch center unit."
Kevin Born, ETS's chief executive officer, said Jelinek was looking for someone who could do what no one else could do for him.
"He was looking for a 48-row twin-row planter, and it wasn't something that anyone else had," Born said. "Not so much that they couldn't give him 48 rows and twin-row planting, but it had to be something that could give him metering from each seed tube because he was doing so many different crops, such a substantial breadth of products with a high degree of precision.
"We took basically off-the-shelf John Deere parts and provided him a tank system and toolbars where we could mount four 12-row meter bodies on it. We trust John Deere and their seeding technologies and we sent the machine without row units to his local John Deere dealer, which installed all the twin-row units."
Jelinek placed on his fertilizer with a Krause strip-till unit, slightly increasing the nitrogen on his twin-row and doubling the starter fertilizer on corn from 5 gallons to 10 per acre, because he was running twice as many rows as was there before.
An ETS SeedWarrior cart is controlled with Deere's iSteer Active Implement Guidance system.
"This way, I don't get any of the side draft that you would normally have with a pull-type machine," Jelinek said. "It's an independent steering system controlled from the tractor."
Singulation and seed placement was very satisfactory, Jelinek said. Incorporating components such as the eSet vacuum metering and Deere's active pneumatic downforce and Seedstar XP?monitoring system definitely helped.
"We went as high-tech and for as much efficiency as we could," Jelinek said. "You can really cover the acres with this thing and not have to stop. You want to get seed in as quickly and as timely as possible so you can beat any weather problems."
Twenty-three inches separate one set of twin seed rows in Jelinek's operation from the next. Jelinek also uses a 24-row Krause Gladiator to perform a strip tillage pass about three weeks ahead of planting.
Doing something novel for Jelinek wasn't unusual for ETS, Born said, because they have over the years developed many pieces of equipment uniquely suited to uses of the strip-till producer.
On the Northern Plains, ETS has become known for its SoilWarrior zone tillage system, which Born said creates zones that are 8 to 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide in any type of soil, without smearing or smoothing the sidewalls and pulling up huge clumps of soil. Tillage is accomplished by using a 30-inch deep-till coulter on each row unit.
A 5/16-inch-thick coulter has 10 replaceable ductile iron tillage bits. Zones up to 6 inches deep can be placed with two 20-inch shallow-till wavy coulters rather than a deep-till coulter.
The bits on the deep-till coulter create a spoon-like cutting action that slices through residue and digs into the soil, creating a U-shaped zone of aerated soil. Two 25-inch containment coulters with a unique saw blade design are mounted behind the deep-till or shallow-till coulters. They float free without down pressure to gather soil and form it into a neat berm.
"Lots of guys in our immediate area want to do corn after corn or high residue situations but they didn't want to disturb the soil from a tillage standpoint. Our system allows fertility to be blended into the zone rather than banded at the bottom of a shank," Born said. "It maintains soil structure and soil health at the same time."
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen with Born if the unit he built for Jelinek is just a one-off unit or not.
"Sure, we could build one, two or five more of these, but planting and seeding isn't our core business, which is precision application of fertilizer in zone-tillage or strip-tillage and seeding equipment," Born said.
As for Jelinek, he saw great results from this custom planting system.
"We're under severe allocation here on irrigation. I was able to draw some of the best yields ever this past year on dry beans and corn using twin-row and strip-till. With twin rows, everything here canopies faster, which uses water efficiently and reduces erosion," Jelinek said.
"I liked what I saw with my flowers. I didn't see any yield bump, but I saw better stalk strength. The biggest increase came from dry beans, which when you add in an increase in plant population were 23 percent better than my regular 30-inch rows."
As for plans for the coming growing season, Jelinek sees optimism as he increases seeded plant populations.
"I started last year on my confections at a rate of 22,000 seeds. I think this year I'll kick it up to 25,000 and see how it works," Jelinek said. "As big as the seed stalks got, I think I'll see a yield bump. I'll run them side-by-side for comparison."
Jelinek said the cost of this one-of-a-kind planter was worth it.
"The planter really covers some ground," Jelinek said. "With as many acres as I cover, it's great to have this technology. It's really a unique planter; you just won't find another one quite like it."