Conventional drill versus precision planting in wheat: What do we know so far?

Michigan State University research is looking at the benefits of precision planting wheat compared to conventional drill.

Wheat field
Wheat field in Mason, Michigan. Photo by Ricardo Costa, MSU Extension.

Building an optimum crop canopy is critical to maximizing wheat yields. To do that, researchers at Michigan State University are looking at how optimum seed depth, seed-to-seed spacing and row spacing can affect yields.

Manni Singh, Michigan State University cropping systems specialist, with the help of his team of graduate students, is leading a research project focused on comparing wheat planted with a conventional drill versus a precision planter. One of the questions this project is trying to answer is if the metering system on a vacuum planter can achieve a more uniform seed placement (depth and singulation) compared to the one on a conventional drill.

According to graduate student Kalvin Canfield, based on first year data, the use of a precision planter can increase seed depth uniformity up to 60% and plant-to-plant spacing up to approximately 20%, leading to a 10% yield increase when compared to the conventional seed drill. One of the most important benefits of the precision planter, when compared to the drill, is its ability to control seed depth and its precise metering, especially when the goal is to plant up to 1.5 million seeds per acre.

As part of this project, Singh's team is also evaluating four different seeding populations at four different row spacings for each to find out what is the right combination to maximize yield potential. According to preliminary data, the narrower the row spacing, the higher the yield potential. At the 5-inch row spacing, yield increased from half a million to two million seeds per acre, up to 134 bushels per acre. According to Dennis Pennington, MSU Extension wheat systems specialist, this is 61% higher than the average wheat yields in Ingham County. However, more research must be done to find out if such yields are realistic in more uncontrolled environments.

In summary, preliminary research so far has shown that using a precision planter can increase yields, but that alone might not be enough to make farmers replace their old drill just yet. It all comes down to cost-benefit, so a detailed economic analysis would be warranted. If the industry can come up with a planter that does an excellent job with singulation, depth control, row spacing and can plant multiple crops, farmers will be more willing to pay for it.

You can learn more about precision planting wheat by watching this short video below.


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