I still remember my first year of farming and having that daunting task of choosing that perfect corn hybrid and soybean variety, knowing full well that each pass with the planter would have such differing yield potential. Little did I know, it would take nearly three decades to finally have the technology to select and plant the correct genetics for every acre in an easy format!
I am passionate about recommending the right corn hybrid or soybean variety for customers’ farms. This was the driving force behind introducing the first multi-genetic planter that was built back in 2011. This planting concept was designed to automatically change corn hybrids on the fly as it plants through varying soil type changes or management zones. 2016 will be its fifth year of evaluation in regard to site-specific multi-genetic planting.
It’s been a long and interesting journey testing the concept and reality of multi-genetic planting. Photo 1 shows a picture of the very first planter used to perform multi-hybrid corn planting back in 2012. This planter was a Kinze 3500 8/15 split row planter that was converted to do our first multi-genetic research. Precision Planting hydraulic drives and a Seed Sense 20/20™ directed prescriptions to this planter, and for our initial year research it worked as theorized.
Photo 1. 1st Multi-Hybrid Planter 2012 Photo 2. 2nd Multi-Hybrid Planter 2013
In 2013, research was expanded by partnering with Kinze Manufacturing. Through this partnership, Kinze supplied us with our second multi-genetic planter, a 16 row 3600 twin row planter (Photo 2). Site-specific hybrid and seeding rate prescription files were directed to this multi-genetic planter by an AgLeader® Integra controller with SeedCommand™.
In 2013-2014, we also reached out to Great Plains Manufacturing to secure two 20’ twin row planters (Photos 3-4) to expand our multi-genetic planting research even further. These planters were primarily positioned in Western and Southern Illinois.
Photo 3. Great Plains Multi-Hybrid Planter Photo 4. Multi-Hybrid Testing in 2014
At each hybrid change within the field, corn rows are offset 8” to account for twin row offset. .
These planters allowed us the benefit of loading the planter with two hybrids but also gave us the ability to plant the hybrid of choice in various management zones in the field. The front row units of the twin row planter were designated for corn hybrids that were classified as “defensive hybrids”, while the back row units were loaded with a more “offensive hybrid”. The concept of this design allowed us to plant “defensive” corn hybrids on tougher soils with lower organic matter, water holding abilities, or cation exchange capacity. “Offensive” corn hybrids were then planted on the best soils of the farm that typically have the highest yields. Individual hydraulic motors/clutches on the front and rear drive shafts allowed us to change corn hybrids at each soil type or management zone while travelling throughout the field. As this process happened, corn rows were shifted 8” left or right to allow for the corn hybrid transition. Photo 5. illustrates this transition with the twin row planting design.
One of the problems associated with twin row multi-hybrid planting was the fact that the 8” offsets caused issues with auto-steer AB lines. To account for these 8” transitions, we installed multi-directional GPS receivers on the planter tractors. This sliding GPS receiver was programed to automatically move 8” left or right to account for the shift in row as the hybrid changes from the front or rear of the multi-hybrid planter. This allowed the ability to use one standard AB line for auto-guidance, as well as eliminating wide or narrow rows on the outside rows of the planter. The Great Plains planters used in 2014 were equipped with the Raven OmniRow® advanced planter control system, which features patent-pending planter control technology that automatically adjusts AB lines to account for the multi-hybrid shifts.
From our initial idea of multi-genetic planting, our intention was to ultimately have the ability to change corn hybrids on the fly in a single row, dual corn meter design. This scenario would eliminate the twin row 8” transitions as well as the extra row units on the planter. As a result of our testing program, Kinze announced on December 10, 2013 the world’s first electric multi hybrid concept planter. This new electric drive multi-hybrid concept planter (Photo 6.) has new row units that incorporate two meters for every row. The meters feed a single seed tube, so the row unit gauge wheels, openers, and closing wheels are identical to a standard Kinze 4000 series row unit. This was only possible by using the new electric drive option on the Kinze 4000 series meters. By eliminating the drive chain and clutch, it allowed to orient the meters close together so that they feed a single seed tube.
Photo 6. 2014 Kinze Manufacturing Single Row, Dual Meter Multi-Hybrid Planter
Research began on this new single row, dual meter planter on February 20, 2014 near Temple, Texas. This southern testing (Photo 7) in February allowed our team to start testing in warm, dry soils rather than waiting until weather warmed in April and May in Illinois. Once planting was complete in Texas, we shipped the planter back to Illinois for more fast and furious multi-genetic testing.
Photo 7. Jason Webster explaining the single row, dual meter planter multi-hybrid technology
Testing also has been conducted with Precision Planting’s vSet® Select single row dual meter (Photos 8-9). This agronomic testing began in 2014 with its initial look at the multi-genetic components and proved to continue in 2015 with multiple growers. This technology is exciting, as these electric dual meters can be installed on multiple types of planters including John Deere, CaseIH, and Kinze planters.
Photo 8. Initial testing of Precision Planting’s vSet Select single row dual meter units in 2014
Photo 9. More Multi-Genetic testing with Precision Planting’s vSet Select continued in 2015
Management zones are a key component of this precision based multi-genetic planting system. Knowing where to plant each hybrid and at what seeding rate is a difficult task for a grower. Developing long term yield data is helpful in determining and understanding where variable yielding areas are located on a spatial basis within a given field. By knowing the spatial difference in a farm’s overall yield potential, it can allow for the use of a multi-genetic planting system to offer precision placement of corn hybrids.
More research needs to be conducted to evaluate the overall practice of site-specific multi-hybrid corn planting. However, four year data (Photo 10.) from 2012-2015 suggests that multi-hybrid planting has offered average yield benefits of 7.3 Bu./A with a return on investment of $37.26/A.
Multi-variety soybean has also been conducted with the same premise as multi-hybrid corn planting. Photo 11. illustrates the three year results of planting the correct soybean variety across varying soil types and yield potential. This research indicates a 3.7 Bu./A. increase in yield, while increasing revenue by $40.66/A.
In the initial conceptual testing of genetic planting, measuring return on investment was impossible as commercial sales and cost of the technology did not exist. However, now that Kinze and Precision Planting are beginning commercial sales of multi-genetic technology, we now in fact have a cost established and it allows us to calculate return on investment of multi-genetic planting. Photo 12. illustrates multi-year yield and revenue summaries from 2012-2015 for both corn and soybeans. If a grower would assume a 50/50 crop rotation of corn and soybeans, our data would indicate $38.96/A. gross revenue increases as a result of multi-genetic planting. Cost of technology for both Kinze and Precision Planting are near $30,000 for a 16 row planter. Therefore, if a grower could replicate the results that has achieved in the past, a grower would only need to plant 403 acres of corn and 369 acres of soybeans in one year to effectively pay for the multi-genetic technology in just one year.
With this in mind, multi-genetic planting in the future could be an excellent way to master corn hybrid and soybean variety placement. While this technology is still a new concept, it is commercially available today for growers to purchase. That being said, it is imperative that growers start developing management zones in their fields as soon as possible so they are ready for this exciting technology.
by Jason Webster, Agronomist
Research Director, Webster Farms