Planter Power Pays Big Time This Year

Hoosier Perspectives

Increased planting capacity helps in wet spring.

Published on: June 3, 2009

A shrewd ag economist like Howard Doster could probably rip my theory to shreds. But it seems to me that if many farmers didn't have perhaps more planting capacity than they would need in a 'normal' year, they would be even further behind this spring than they are already.

Doster, now retired, was a Purdue Extension ag economist who specialized in trying to determine what size of equipment a certain size farm could afford. Chances are he might think a farmer with 1,500 acres and two planters- a 16-row and 8-row- both equipped with splitters for 15-inch soybeans and both set up to no-till, was over equipped. Tell that to the farmer who's living it this spring.

One such farmer was able to plant over 700 acres in three and a half days. Unfortunately, it's the only break he's had in the weather. He's waiting for a break big enough to plant the rest of the crop now. At the rate he's progressing, another four days should be enough. That's under seven days to plant 1,500 acres, with many of those acres being in small fields and odd patches. Try that with a four-row or six-row from the old days.

Like many others, the farmer capitalized on part-time help to get his 8-row bean planter rolling on the same day he started planting corn with a 16-row planter. Until this year, he had two planters- a 12-row and an 8-row. Uncertain of how much help he would have this spring, he considered trading both planters for the 16-row. Now he's glad he held on to the 8-row. Once he finishes corn, he can devote both planters to finishing up on soybeans. Even for soybeans, the ideal planting date is long since gone. What happens now will depend upon the weather from here on out. And as any true Hoosier knows, Indiana weather can be fickle. Mother Nature delivered last year, despite a late planting season and devastating floods in both June and September. But cool temperatures and enough moisture in many areas kept crop yields up.

Not everyone was so lucky. Farmers in northeast Indiana ran short of moisture early, and yields were hurt dramatically in '08. They're hoping for better results this year.

How much planter capacity is enough is like one of those chicken and egg questions. If you know what the weather will be like, you can make the right decision. Maybe you can divert funds you have tied up in the extra planter to some more productive use. But then you hit a year like this one. The most productive use for those funds in '09 could well be in extra planting capacity.

Let's just leave it this way. Doster or anyone else would have a hard time convincing many farmers to scale back planter capacity after the spring they've been through in Indiana this year. Those who rolled the dice and went heavy on planting equipment may still be behind schedule, but they're certainly farther ahead than they would have been if they had gambled on being able to pull fewer planter units across the field at once and get done in anything resembling timely fashion.

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