With the high cost of farmland, the focus for a growing number of producers these days is productivity. But this is productivity managed with an extremely sharp pencil.
That helps explain the heightened interest in Monosem planters, because of their potential role in helping growers reduce their seed costs.
Many growers have already attempted to reduce costs by switching from a drill to a planter for some crops in order to drop their plant populations via seeding rate.
One measure that’s gaining traction among growers in parts of Eastern Canada involves the adoption of twin-row planters. There are plenty of farmers who have made the switch from drills to conventional planters, primarily moving out of drills for soybeans, with some even making the change on their wheat.
Twin-row planting has been slowly adopted in certain regions of North America, but one crop that’s seeing a successful switch to twin-row is canola. That’s where Monosem is making strides.
Across East and West, a typical rate is five pounds of canola seed per acre, but that’s based on an expected loss of up to 50 per cent of the seed in the ground.
A YouTube video shows Monosem’s twin-row design and its vacuum seed plate. The biggest advantage is that seeding rates can be cut by up to half, or just 2.5 pounds per acre.
Row spacing is wider and seed spacing is greater, yet emergence in one year of testing was improved by 35 per cent on 12-foot twin rows in zero-till management. Research plots were tested with seeding rates as low as one pound per acre with little or no change in yield.
Canola growers will still see skips and doubles, but even those numbers are lower compared to a conventional seed drill.
What piques the interest of growers seems to be the adaptability of the Monosem design. The YouTube video dealt with canola production, but there are growers who have adapted their planters to corn, soybeans and edible beans as well.
Each unit, regardless of row width, is custom built: a grower can’t walk on to a dealer’s lot and buy one “off the rack,” so to speak. They are designed with the individual’s cropping and tillage practices in mind.
The company has had a slow progression from its early days in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was well-known in the horticulture sector. In the early 2000s, European researchers started using Monosem planters to get more precise planting data. Soon after, the design began migrating across the Atlantic and it is now the only planter used by Monsanto for its research trials and plots in the U.S.
“There are lots of ways to see the benefits of spacing out a plant,” says Paul Smith of Northern Equipment Solutions. “You get people who ask, ‘Are they getting yields?’ And some of these growers aren’t driven by economics, they’re yield-driven, where they’ll put more money in it just to see what happens.”
More than singulation
The twin-row planting design promotes near perfect singulation, but Smith emphasizes the importance of other features exclusive to Monosem. The company has designed its own seed firmer, which is a step beyond the Keeton unit, adding a rotating wheel behind the seed disc.
“I call it a seed firmer on steroids, because it’s a 12-inch aluminum disc that places the seed in the ground,” says Smith, who’s based in Stayner, Ont. “With corn and soybeans, you actually have to use a seed-depth tool to get the seed out of the ground — that’s how firmly it’s placed for that seed-to-soil contact. When you go to canola, it’s pushing the seed into that crust under the soil instead of putting it into that fluff that’s just above it. We’re getting a higher germination rate just because of that.”
Grows on this grower
Carl Brubacher’s experience with a Monosem is in line with Smith’s. Brubacher, who operates Carlotte Farms near Arthur, Ont., uses the Monosem planter for canola, corn, soybeans and white beans, and finds the planter works well in each of the crops.
“We’ve planted using it for two seasons,” Brubacher says. “We bought a six-row twin in Michigan and then we bought a 12-row twin. We’ve done one year of each so this spring, we’re looking forward to running what we ran last year with nothing new to get used to.”
Brubacher has dropped his canola planting rate to 2.5 pounds per acre and knows some growers in Western Canada succeeding with just 1.6 pounds.
“With canola, there are multiple benefits to having a lighter stand: the stalks get bigger, there’s less trash, less mould risk, it’ll stand better and harvest is beautiful,” says Brubacher. “Planting wheat is nicer because you have less residue and the ground is more open to plant into.”
Get it right
Smith adds that the focus is on doing everything right at the start. The company tries to avoid after-market installations, such as down-force systems common with other manufacturers. Instead of spending $2,000 per row after the purchase of the planter to add down-force monitors, Monosem added its own system, based on a coil-over shock absorber and mounted on the planter. The cost savings is $500 per row instead of $2,000 per row.
“If they can control the wheel on a car going 200 miles an hour through the dirt on bumpy ground, why wouldn’t it hold my planter in place to hold the depth at five miles per hour?” asks Smith, noting the Monosem planter is also unique compared to others. “Ours is aluminum, brass and stainless steel, so there are no static electricity issues, it doesn’t wear out, it doesn’t need to be calibrated… those are huge advantages.”
The company also focuses on depth control, which arguably does even more to boost uniform germination than seed singulation. Smith notes that U.S. growers like Kip Cullers and Randy Dowdy frequently deliver presentations on this topic and stress the importance of depth control and its value for even emergence.
“They say, ‘If things can’t come up within hours of each other, they’ll actually think they’re competing with each other,’” says Smith. “Plants communicate through reflection and there’ll be different shades of green, no matter how slight.”
There’s also the shift in mindset about wider row spacing and lower seeding rates. Smith says he’s seen more success opening up the row spacing yet he hasn’t seen any yield advantage going to narrower rows, and he uses a planter that’s a twin-row 30 (two rows on a 30-inch centre, eight inches apart) on his own farm.
“By going to a twin-row planter, you’re now spacing these plants out and getting better air flow,” says Smith. “From there you can tweak populations to where they should be to get your yield. You get into some of these edible beans and a few hundred pounds can be a lot of money per acre. And that’s where our advantage is — it’s spaced right, it’s a different row spacing to promote air flow, and you get singulation, accuracy and even emergence.”