Darling Downs grain growers David and Tanya Peters have invested in a Precision Planter with auto-downforce and say the new technology has significantly improved their crop uniformity and yields.
PHOTO: Cox Inall Communications
Allora grain grower David Peters is pragmatic when it comes to planting: “You only get one chance to get it right,” he says. So it stands to reason the fourth-generation grower from Queensland’s Darling Downs considers planters one of the most important pieces of farm equipment.
“That is where it all starts. Your yield is dependent on how that seed goes in the ground. You can’t alter that once it’s planted, you can only manage the crop,” David says.
The Allora local was one of several growers invited to share their experiences with new planter technologies, such as auto-downforce and variable-rate seeding, at a recent GRDC Grains Research Update in Toowoomba.
Growers: David and Tanya Peters
Location: Allora, Darling Downs
Farm size: 1600 hectares
Average annual rainfall: 560 millimetres
Soil types: self-mulching loam, black soil, red soil
Enterprises: 800ha cropping, 800ha cattle
Cropping program (2016): 200ha maize, 280ha sorghum, 160ha mungbeans, fallow, 240ha barley, 200ha chickpeas
David and his wife Tanya farm 800 hectares of contoured country with soil types varying from heavy black creek flats to harder red country. It was the ongoing challenge of even crop emergence and the need to optimise grain yields to lift farm business gross margins that spurred David to investigate new planting technology options.
“I’d been on a tour of the US and talked to farmers there about precision planting so we decided to buy a Precision Planting 2020 Seedsense seeder,” he says.
David wanted a machine with automatic downforce so the planter itself could control and adjust seed planting depth based on paddock topography and soil conditions.
“We wanted consistent planting depth regardless of the paddock, so we needed planting equipment that could apply the downforce needed on our harder country, and be adjusted so it wouldn’t compact soils in other areas.”
Two seasons after investing in the new planter, David says it has paid for itself, with the auto-downforce system allowing for better crop emergence and quicker and more uniform crop development.
“Getting plant spacing and seeding depth uniform does impact your grain yield. Another benefit of the planter is its electric driver, which has made a big difference in terms of planting over the contours,” David says.
However, he says it is difficult to estimate the gains that the new technology has provided in crop price improvements per hectare or yield increases across a paddock.
“We have grown significantly better crops, but it is hard to put an exact dollar value on the gains we attribute to better planting.
“Yet we know the planter has made a major difference to our cropping system and it has also reduced the risks that came with an operator having to determine the right setting for planting.”
He says seed depth at planting is complex to determine and difficult to control from the tractor cabin.
“Before we started using this technology, we constantly ran the risk of either having too much weight on the gauge wheels, which meant plant roots were getting compacted or seeds were too close to the soil surface. Both impacted on yields,” David says.
“Having contoured country often meant it felt like we were playing catch-up: we either had inconsistent seeding depth or unnecessary soil compaction. Now we are finding crop germination and establishment are exceptional.
“A further benefit from having such a uniform crop has been a reduction in pest and disease pressure and an ability to treat those issues in a timely way, because all of the crop has been at the same stage of development at the same time.”
The Peters have a flexible approach to their cropping program, with David an advocate of planting what he “grows best” rather than “chasing the dollar in terms of what is selling well”. His 2016 crop program included maize, sorghum, mungbeans, barley and chickpeas. In other years, he has also grown sunflowers, depending on the season and soil moisture levels.
“While the planter has allowed us to grow a uniform crop using the auto-downforce system and variable seeding rates, it hasn’t really increased the speed of the planting process for us,” David says.
“But I probably plant a lot slower than most people. If you go too fast, you risk not doing a quality job. I’d prefer to take it steady and do the best job I can getting seed into the ground, because you only get one chance to get it right.”
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