• Precision Ag Reviews

Ep. 23: Preparing for Planting with Brett Buehler of Ag Leader




In Episode 23 of Precision Points, Brett Buehler of Ag Leader joins us to talk all about planter prep and getting your planter ready for spring. We cover not only what to watch out for, but also what might happen when regular maintenance of your planter is neglected. Starting at the front of the planter and working our way to the back, we highlight each mechanical part, when it is set up correctly and when it should be replaced.


“A planter at the surface looks like a simple system. It doesn't have an engine. It doesn't have a transmission,” said Buehler. “But a planter really is a deceptively complex system.”


Opening Discs

For most planters, opening discs come new from the factory at 15 inches; you should replace them when they get to a 14.5-inch diameter. The goal of the opening disc is to make a U-shaped trench for the seed to sit in. If the disc openers are worn too thin, they stop making a trench that the seed can make it to the bottom of; instead it looks like a “W.” Sometimes, the seed will fall on the peak of that “W” and in the middle can stay standing (sometimes it falls over), causing inconsistent seed depth.


“So if I'm digging behind my planter, it looks like I have a downforce problem. I don't actually have a downforce problem,” said Brett. “I like starting here, because when people see erratic seed depth... I think most people assume it's a downforce problem. Ag Leader happens to sell an automatic adjusting hydraulic downforce system. Most of those systems are not cheap. So, if you have this problem and you buy a system like that and it doesn't fix your problem, it could have been something very simple, like these opening discs.”


No-Till Coulter

No-till coulters help the planter slice through existing residue in your field. These wavy or fluted coulters should not be tilling the soil deeper than you're planting the seed. Brett recommends that you set the planter down on concrete, and make sure that you have an air gap between the coulter and the floor. The gap will depend on what your specific manufacturer recommends, usually between ¼’’ and ½’’.


“If those are deeper than what you're planting to, you're going to have some air pockets which change how quickly that seed can imbibe moisture, and that's going to change the timeliness of when the first plant emerges, compared to the plant next to it,” Brett noted. “It’s very important for maximizing yield.”


Seed Tube Guards

Did you know you can replace your seed tube guard? For some planters, it's easy to tell; for others, the seed tube guard looks like an integral part of the planter. Knowing when to replace these is important because not only do they serve as a guard for the seed tube, but they also hold the opening discs apart. They too play an important role in the shape of your seed trench when they have worn past ⅝’’.


“Easy way to do it is take a five-eighths-inch combination wrench and put the tip of the seed tube guard in the wrench; if it fits inside, it's time to replace. A good rule of thumb is replace that anytime you're doing opening discs, but when that has worn thinner than five-eights of an inch, the soil actually pushes those opening discs together, and you get a V shape trench instead of that U shape trench,” said Brett.


Depth Adjuster

Do you have all of your depth adjuster handles set to the same depth? That might be a problem. The handle is there to help you adjust your depth, but you have to test each row to find a consistent level.


“When I see every row on the planter with that depth handle set to the same position, I automatically think we're not planting all at the same depth here, we've got some depth problems,” Brett said. “In the manufacturing process, there's not a lot of consistency there from row to row. Brand new planters have different settings on those handles. As they wear it, that problem becomes worse. So it is important to check depth on every row.”


Closing Wheels

Every planter has closing wheels that center over the seed trench. The closing wheels close the seed trench from the bottom up, so it’s important that they are centered so that trench gets completely closed. If it's not centered, you’ll push the trench to one side. Rather than looking at the wear, Brett recommends reading the planter manual to accurately center the closing wheels.


“Actually, there's a centric or a cam in there to adjust for that wear. I can still center my closing wheels, but it is important to actually be driving the planter forward, because as you're trailing those closing wheels, they're going to move one way or the other,” said Brett. “It's not always a bad thing. Now, if you want to spend some money and buy some of these aftermarket kits that allow you to take that wear, that's not a problem either, but simply having the wear is not always a problem.”


Bushings

Another piece that generally affects everyone is the bushing. Each row unit has eight parallel arm bushings that keep your unit stable and accurate. Replacing bushings is an inexpensive way to preserve your planter and insure planter accuracy. If your bushings are too worn, it can change the pitch of your planter, possibly driving the opening disc deeper into the soil and lessening the pressure of the closing wheels.

“It's so hard to explain to somebody how much wiggle is right. I just kind of been doing this for so long that I can pick up on the row unit and say, ‘Yeah, this feels like it might be time to replace it,’” Brett said. “The side to side wiggle is the other problem. So, it's something that I probably can't give you a spec on here, but if I can move the tail of that row unit more than an inch up and down, it's getting close to time to replace those.”


Time to rebuild your planter?


Many growers have transitioned to building or rebuilding their own planter. At Ag Leader, they focus on aftermarket systems to assist in this process. SureSpeed, a meter system, is their newest planting solution. It carries the seed all the way to the trench. They tout the same accuracy at slow and fast speeds, up to 12 MPH.


“It solves so many interesting problems that I would say a lot of the guys that I've talked to, maybe they didn't really even realize were problems,” stated Brett. “You see those seeds, the beans coming out of that tube, and because it's such a shallow trench, they are bouncing, because they have a lot of downward velocity. They bounce right out of the trench…[that] is one of the things that we solve with the SureSpeed system.”


This planting system – combined with SureForce, Ag Leaders planter hydraulic downforce – helps make a good seed trench by allowing you to set a targeted gauge wheel load.


“Absolutely incredible tools that when you pair them with a planter that is fundamentally set up well, you're going to see better stands than you've ever seen before,” Brett said.


If you are interested in learning more about Ag Leader’s planting technology, you can follow Brett on Twitter as he shares his work. You can also tune into our full episode here.


Have you used Ag Leader SureSpeed or Sureforce? Leave a review here.

Transcription:

Host: Morgan Seger

Guest: Brett Buehler


Morgan Seger: Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger. In each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas. On today's episode, I am joined by Brett Buehler from Ag Leader. Now, I have to tell you, this episode is jam packed with useful information. We spend the duration of our conversation talking about planter mechanics, and what you can be doing to make sure you are ready for spring planting, and it's interesting the way he looks at it.


Morgan Seger: So, when he describes the planter and things that can be going wrong, he does it in such a way that you can really visualize the planter unit and the problems he's talking about. He focuses on, not only what we should be looking for, but the implications that happen if you neglect to keep up on regular maintenance on some of these key items in your planter. So, I really think that this is an actionable episode for you to listen to, and then go out, check your planter and make sure you're ready to roll. So let's dive right in. Here's my conversation with Brett Buehler from Ag Leader.


Morgan Seger: Welcome back to Precision Points. Today, I am joined by Brett Buehler from Ag Leader. He's a technology sales specialist, and today we plan on talking about everything we need to be thinking to get our planters ready for spring planting. But before we dive into some of that preparation we should be working on, can you give us a little bit of your background? Just introduce yourself for our audience.


Brett Buehler: Sure. First of all, thanks for having me. I grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa, also still farming with my sister, and we'd be fourth-generation farmers there. I've been involved with agriculture pretty much my entire life. Went to Iowa State University, have an Ag Systems Technology degree. Then after graduation, I moved to Kansas, worked for a research plot planter manufacturer for about a year and a half, and then we moved back to Iowa, and I've been at Ag Leader for about 10 years.


Brett Buehler: The majority of my time at Ag Leader was in the product management side of the business, focused solely on row crop planters. Even though I'm now in the sales department, my focus is still with the planting products. One of the things that I like to do this time of year is go over those maintenance items of the planter because Ag Leader sells some really powerful tools for the planter, but if your planter is not fundamentally set up properly, those tools really can't help you. So this is a great time of year to make sure your planters are ready for the field, and if you're investing in some technology, make sure that your planter is set up to be able to give you the biggest return that that technology can give you.


Morgan Seger: Sure. Sure. Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to work with lots of Ag Leader monitors, but it felt sometimes when we were trying to troubleshoot, we were shooting from the hip. So, can you walk us through what a process should look like, so we make sure we don't miss anything?


Brett Buehler: Sure. Now, most of what I'm probably going to be discussing today is just the mechanical parts of the planter, the fundamental pieces of that planter, but as far as troubleshooting or making sure that system's ready to go, that's one thing that sets Ag Leader apart as we offer free tech support to any end user. So anybody can call into here at Ames, Iowa, you talk to somebody who not only is set up to help you with that product, but we have them set up in the office. A lot of these guys farm. That's one of the things that makes Ag Leader interesting, is our engineering department, our product testing department, take me for example, the sales department, a lot of us here farm, so we have firsthand experience with our own products.


Brett Buehler: If your tech support isn't able to help you, we've got a dealer network. That's how anybody would purchase something from Ag Leader, we offer dealer training here, so all of our dealers are well-versed in the products. That's generally where you get, of course, the best support that would generally be a first line of if they're unable to help you or you can't get a hold of them, that's when we would call our tech support department.


Morgan Seger: Sure, sure. It's nice to have that peace of mind that you have someone there who's very familiar with the product and able to troubleshoot and walk you through those problems.


Brett Buehler: Maybe one last piece here that you might find interesting is, our latest display comes with a wifi router built into it. So you can actually connect that to a hotspot in your cab and your Ag Leader dealer can use his phone, his iPad, his computer in the office and see exactly what you're seeing on the display to walk you through that. That's a really neat feature. It's made support and using the Ag Leader monitors even easier. It's always been easy, but now using Agfinity and remote support is fairly neat feature for us that really makes it second to none as far as ease of use.


Morgan Seger: Yeah. I'm just sitting here thinking like that would be huge. Trying to explain what screen you're on can be the hardest part sometimes. That's huge.


Brett Buehler: Oh yeah. I've been there many times trying to describe what a button looks like, and there's no arrow, but there's a sideways triangle.


Morgan Seger: That's all right. That's awesome. Oh, good. Well, when it comes to the mechanics of a planter, where do you think people should start when they're getting their stuff ready for the spring?


Brett Buehler: I have seen so many different issues with the planter that it's sometimes tough to figure out where to start, but the one that I typically see the most, this also happens to be at the front of the row unit. So maybe we'll just start from the front and work our way to the back of the row unit. There's going to be a few things we'll all throw in at the end that some planters have and some planters don't, but if you have that attached to your planter, that's where you probably want to maybe listen to that aspect of it, but the opening discs are where I'm going to start, and I should offer some backstory here.


Brett Buehler: I've been to a lot of planter clinics, and everybody will tell you how to adjust or when it's time to replace parts, but rarely does anybody tell you the consequences of what happens if you don't do that. I'm going to share those consequences today. So if you're listening on, listening along, this is not just another planter clinic that you've been to a million times, so I'll go into, and if you don't do this, here's the bad things that happen, and sometimes those are pretty interesting in how they show themselves.


Morgan Seger: Yeah, I love this. I'm so excited.


Brett Buehler: The opening discs, most machines, they come new from the factory at 15 inches, you should replace them when they get to 14.5-inch-diameter, and not every planter's that way, but that's the norm. Your operator's manual is going to tell you. Why that is important is, if they start wearing thinner, will stop making a trench that the seed can make it to the bottom of. So instead of being a V or ... as we'll get to better later, a U shape is actually the trench that we're looking for. Now, the seed has to follow the bottom; if they're too worn it will stop making that U shaped trench; it looks more of a W and sometimes the peak of that W in the middle can stay standing, sometimes it falls over, and now I've got inconsistent depth.


Brett Buehler: So if I'm digging behind my planter, it looks like I have a downforce problem. I don't actually have a downforce problem. I like starting here, because when people see erratic seed depth, they start talking to maybe their neighbors or some consultant. "I have this problem, what should I do about it?" I think most people assume it's a downforce problem. Ag Leader happens to sell an automatic adjusting hydraulic downforce system. Most of those systems are not cheap. So, if you have this problem and you buy a system like that and it doesn't fix your problem, it could have been something very simple, like these opening discs.


Brett Buehler: Anyway, having those be within a range between that 15 inches or between 14.5 and 15 is important. So we don't get that W, but more importantly is, and I see this overlooked in a lot of clinics, is the seed tube guard. Now, when I started farming, I said I grew up on a farm, my dad had mentioned, well, the purpose of that thing is to protect the seed tube, and with a name like a seed tube guard, it's easy to understand why, and he would replace his when the little wings that protected the seed tube were worn through. Well, that little piece actually also holds the opening discs apart so you get that U-shaped seed trench.


Brett Buehler: When that has worn thin, five-eighths of an inch is really the common measurement that we use though. Easy way to do it is take a five-eighths inch combination wrench and put the tip of the seed tube guard in the wrench; if it fits inside, it's time to replace. A good rule of thumb is replace that anytime you're doing opening discs, but when that has worn thinner than five-eighths of an inch, the soil actually pushes those opening just together, and you get a V-shape trench instead of that U-shape trench.


Brett Buehler: If you've seen online advertisements for seed firmers, there's a lot of different seed firmers out there, and that's a typical picture they use for why they're important because they show the seed that's hung up somewhere above the bottom of the trench. Now there's a great picture I've seen with a guy who's got a pencil underneath the seed to show that there's like a half inch or more than a quarter inch of air gap under that seed. Now, if we had that seed tube guard replaced, the trench would be much wider and have a U shape, not so much of a V shape, and then seed firmer isn't as necessary.


Morgan Seger: I'm guessing replacing that seed tube is going to be a little bit more affordable also, than going with the seed firmer?


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Yeah. We're talking about 10 bucks here versus ... I guess I don't know where the market is on seed firmers now; I ran them on my own planter, half of my planter, for three years to figure out what value they had on my planter, if there was a value there, just for the affirming aspects, not so much the liquid application aspect. They do have some value, but as far as strictly farming a seed, I found very little on my own farm, but I also keep those seed tube guards replaced and set like they should be.


Brett Buehler: That's something that I see time and time again. I've actually met with a lot of farmers who didn't know that that piece was replaceable. Now it's obvious it's replaceable on some brands of planters, but other brands of planters that looks like an integral part of the row unit, they don't screw that hold it in place. So, it's quite interesting, and something we see at Ag Leader that there's not a lot of people who read operator's manuals.


Brett Buehler: A planter at the surface looks like a simple system. It doesn't have engine. It doesn't have a transmission. Right? So guys are like, "I don't have to worry too much about it. I know how to set a combine. I know how to maybe rebuild an engine." But a planter really is deceptively complex system. That's one of the big pieces of that seed tube guard. If we move ... I guess, is there any questions that you have about that or otherwise I'm going to move right on towards the back.


Morgan Seger: Yeah, no. Keep chugging along.


Brett Buehler: Okay. If we move back a little bit further, there's a depth adjuster handle that everybody is familiar with. That's how they change their planting depth, and a common problem I see or I'm always wondering if the problem is there is when I see every row on the planter where that depth handle is set to the same position, I automatically think we're not planting all at the same depth here, we've got some depth problems, and the manufacturing process, there's not a lot of consistency there from row to row. Brand new planters have different settings on those handles. As they wear it, that problem becomes worse. So it is important to check depth on every row.


Brett Buehler: I use a Sharpie on my own planter, planting corn and soybeans, I mark where two inches is that particular year, and I mark where an inch, or I plant soybeans early, so I tend to plant shallower than some people, but wherever I want to plant, if that's an inch I mark where that is, and in the life of the Sharpie mark on my row unit seems to be perfect that by the next season it's worn off. It works absolutely perfect marking each row where that depth is.


Morgan Seger: Is that something you recommend they're just checking once or is that something they should be checking multiple times throughout the season or the planting season?


Brett Buehler: I would say it's not going to change a whole lot throughout the season, I mean, it really depends on how many acres you're covering. Different planters wear at different rates as well. But for me, I check it once a year. It's just one of those things I do before I go to the field. Depending on your planter as well, if you do have some wear of those depth adjusting components, like on my planter, I can take the gauge wheel arm off and flip it over and have a fresh wear surface, something I've seen a lot of guys replacing those because they're too wore out, but it wouldn't have had to been done, you can flip it over and reuse it on the opposite side and get it's new wear surfaces there.


Brett Buehler: If we move back in the row unit a little bit further, the closing wheels, every planter has a way to center those over the seed trench. I've met with a lot of guys who have followed behind a lot of planters where they're not centered and learning that there's actually a process or a way to do that, can surprise some guys. It's not always immediately obvious how to do that, but of course your planter manual is going to tell you, and the biggest problem that happens when they're not centered, if it's so bad that one closing wheel is riding within the trench, it's actually going to prevent you from closing the trench. That wheel is holding that trench open.


Brett Buehler:

Depending on the rains that we get after planting, the soil moisture at the time of planting, it still might grow, but it's never a good idea to leave that trench open, if you get a pounding rain and you've got some hills, it's going to create a nice river for water to flow down and wash things away that you just placed in that trench and spend a lot of money trying to place well. So, having those centered is important. The concept of a closing wheel as well is to close the trench from the bottom up, and if they're not perfectly centered, you are folding the trench to one side, which doesn't allow it to seal well.


Brett Buehler:

The worst case scenario that we talked about first is of course, a really bad deal, but if they're not perfectly centered, you're still going to get a crop, but you're not filling that trench as well as you could have if it was perfectly centered.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. Now, do you see people seeing wear on those the same or is it just that they're getting off center?


Brett Buehler:

That's a good question. There is a lot of wear that happens depending on some planter brands, and generations of planters wear worse than others. I see quite often when somebody has got the older style planter that has a lot of wear, there's a lot of aftermarket solutions out there to fix that wear, but that wear wasn't necessarily unintentional, the row unit is designed to wear and has enough adjustment to account for that wear. So for example, my planter was actually ... it's from the mid 90s and the closing wheels on my planter wear very quickly.


Brett Buehler:

I think most farmers would look at that and say, "This has worn too much, it's time to replace." It's like, well, actually, there's a centric or a cam in there to adjust for that wear, I can still center my closing wheels, but it is important to actually be driving the planter forward because as you're trailing those closing wheels, they're going to move one way or the other. It's not always a bad thing. Now, if you want to spend some money and buy some of these aftermarket kits that allow you to take that wear, that's not a problem either, but simply having the wear is not always a problem.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. I like how you're walking through this. I can really visualize the planter unit as you go through. So is there anything else as we walk through here or are those your main watch out?


Brett Buehler:

Those are certainly the main watch outs, and the ones that I see will affect anybody, no matter what brand of planter you've got. There are of course, a few other watch outs, the big ones at the very front, which would be a no-till coulter. It is extreme. Anytime I visit a planter and I see a no-till coulter, I always check that they are shallow enough. It is not designed to be tilling the soil deeper than you're planting the seed.


Brett Buehler:

So most of those no-till coulter, they have a bubble, a flute, a wave in them, which is moving the soil, but it's generating air pockets in there. If those are deeper than what you're planting too, you're going to have some air pockets which change how quickly that seed can imbibe moisture, and that's going to change the timeliness of when the first plant emerges, compared to the plant next to it, compared to the plant next to that timeliness of emergence, very important for maximizing yield, and having a no-till coulter can really be a detriment to getting timely emergence.


Brett Buehler:

So what I'm looking for, I set the planter down on concrete, and I want to make sure that I have an air gap between the coulter and the floor of that concrete or the concrete pad. Depending on your planter manufacturer, I've heard some say a quarter inch is fine. I've heard some say a half inch is fine. It's going to depend on how aggressive that coulter is. A wavy coulter can be obviously more aggressive than a bubble or a fluted coulter. So that's going to change, but the bottom line is, if it's deeper than your opening discs, you're going to have a problem. It's very easy to check for that.


Morgan Seger:

Sure, and I can see how ... as you're talking about this, if you would have an issue with your opening disc or your closing wheels, how it all just compounds in.


Brett Buehler:

Absolutely. The other piece that does generally affect everybody is the bushing. So, each row unit has eight parallel arm bushings, you've got four at the toolbar side and four at the row unit side. I'm in the process of replacing mine this year, but it's so hard to explain to somebody how much wiggle is right. I just kind of been doing this for so long that I can pick up on the row unit and say, "Yeah, this feels like it might be time to replace it." The side to side wiggles is other problems. So, it's something that I probably can't give you a spec on here, but if I can move the tail of that row unit more than an inch up and down, it's getting close to time to replace those. There's a ton of options out there.


Brett Buehler:

Sometimes just getting new bushings, isn't going to fix the problem because the parallel arms themselves have gotten egged out, there's a lot of solutions there as far as aftermarket options to replace or put a different bushing in there, that's larger. If you keep them replaced on a timely schedule, we're not going to egg out those parallel arms as bad. So, for example, again, my planter was made in 1994 and my parallel arms are still good because I keep those bushings replaced in a timely schedule. The more movement we get and the more slope, the more damage is going to cost the apparel arms, and that's a lot more expensive than the bushings. The bushings are about a dollar a piece, and the parallel arms, they're running over a 100 bucks, certainly wise to replace those.


Brett Buehler:

But if we don't replace those, now again, I can promise, what happens here is, the pitch of the row unit can change. So we mentioned the depth adjusters earlier, when that wears, your planting at a different depth. Well, the opening discs are a little bit forward of the gauge wheels generally. So if the row unit tips forward, our opening discs are now cutting into the soil further. That's going to affect our depth. The closing wheels are tipped or where they attach is tipped up in the air, so the closing wheels have a little bit less force on that particular row at that trench, which is going to change our closing performance. If we have that coulter or row cleaners that's changing the angle that those engaged with soil.


Brett Buehler:

So, can you still plant with a row unit that's tipped forwards or backwards? I would say yes, of course, you can. But when you've got different amounts of tip from row to row, it becomes very difficult to set that planter properly. Again, when you've got bushings that costs less than $2 a piece, it's so much easier to replace those than letting them go too far, and then having to replace those parallel arms that now you're going into the hundreds of dollars per row.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah, and then you're letting more air into that seed trench again, right? If it's tipping forward like that from not replacing.


Brett Buehler:

Yup. If it's tipped forward, again, those closing wheels are not putting as much force, well, you've got to force adjustment and you can solve that if you're paying attention to it, but just like the depth setting, most guys just pick a setting for those closing wheels and run it. That's a question that when I do an in-person clinic where we're actually digging seeds, it's like, "Hey, what are you guys looking for when you set your closing wheels?" Time and time again, my dad always said it here, "This is just where we've always said it." It's tough to learn the right way to do it because generally when we plant in the spring, rain is fairly common. If we don't do a good job closing, rain covers up a lot of our mistakes. So, we might make a mistake closing the trench every year, but we only have to suffer the consequences once every five years potentially.


Morgan Seger:

And we blame it on the weather then.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah, of course it is. A lot of planter technology, a lot of these adjustments, I'll refer to some of them as cheap insurance. Are you going to have a good crop if you don't do this? You likely will, but I can promise you that you're not going to have a worst crop if you do these things, and you're going to have that one year within that five to 10 year window where it would have paid for itself if you had it. But our SureForce system, we've had two years in a row where we've had extreme planting conditions. So, in 2019, we've planted into extremely wet conditions, waited and waited and waited for ground to dry out, and we got to the point where a lot of guys just didn't plant, they had to take some prevent planting payments.


Brett Buehler:

I finished planting at the end of June, normally I'm done in month and a half ahead of that. But when we have planting into those wet conditions, the consistent depth of the seed becomes less important because there's so much moisture, it's going to germ, it's going to come out of the ground, but causing compaction as a problem. So, with SureForce, I could run as little as 25 pounds of load per gauge wheel. I've used an example of you standing out in the field or me standing out in the field, my boots have about the same surface area on the soil as the gauge wheel does. So if you imagine a 200 pound person out there, well, they've got a 100 pounds on each boot.


Brett Buehler:

If you look at how much compaction you're causing is probably not a whole lot, but when you can cut that down, that gauge wheel load to 25 pounds instead of a 100 pounds per wheel, you're leaving a very light footprint. You're probably going to have some shallow planted seeds, but in mudding it in or planting into very wet conditions, that's the way to go, we fast forward to 2020, and it was the exact opposite. We had extremely dry conditions, on my own farm, my moisture line was right there at two inches. So I planted two and a half inches deep just to make sure I had every seed planted into moisture and I would have nice even emergence, but I also ran my downforce system targeting 150 pounds of loads, so that would have been 75 per wheel.


Brett Buehler:

The analogy I like to use here is my son's five years old. We spend a lot of time at the beach building sand castles. When the sand is wet, it's very easy to build a castle, right? When it's dry, you can't really build a castle, and you can squeeze it as hard as you can. In Iowa, we've got snow all over the place right now. It's so cold that you can't really build a snowball, right? That snow is so dry. We can't get that snowball made. Planting is the same way. We have to create a decent seed trench to get that seed to fall into the bottom of the trench. In dry years, it just takes more force to do it. Not only was I planting deeper to make sure I was into the moisture, I increased my gauge wheel load targets just to make sure I could build a trench.


Brett Buehler:

Common questions our users ask us is, what is the right setting? And I say, Man, if I could tell you what the right setting was and I say it was the same every year, we would just have one setting." It would be the one setting that you need, but there's options in there because in wet years you want less, dry years you want more. The only way to really figure out what is that right setting is, stop the planter, I leave the planter down and I look at my trench quality between the gauge wheels and the closing wheels. If it's open, if that trench is open, I know at least have enough. I could have too much, but there's so many educational videos. One that I've made that you can find on Twitter, on YouTube, on how to tell a good seed trench, I don't need to really get into that.


Brett Buehler:

But man, SureForce is an incredibly powerful tool, but if your opening discs aren't in check, if those closing wheels aren't in check or aligned properly, you're still going to have problems, and it's no fault of that downforce system.


Morgan Seger:

Sure.I liked the analogies and knowing less when it's wet, more when it's dry and then obviously there's going to be nuances throughout the season. So just make sure you're checking.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Again, mentioning at the beginning the planter is a complex system. The whole process of planting and how it engaged with the soils of different conditions, it even becomes more complex. There's a wealth of information to be pulled in. The clinics that I do, speaking with you today, but man, you can find so much online too about how to become better. The common pushback of I've been doing it this way for 40 years, are you telling me I'm doing it wrong? Wrong is pretty black and white. Could you be doing better? I think anybody could be doing better. That's the nature of life in general. Right?


Brett Buehler:

As we proceed to the years and proceeded to generations, we find better ways to do things. So yes, farming like we did last year works, but farming like we're going to next year, is hopefully better.



Morgan Seger:

Oh yeah. I mean, the technology is constantly changing and trying to keep up with our imagination. So all of that has to ... if you want to be engaged with Precision Ag and some of these technological advancements, you got to be open-minded into evaluating how you've always done things, because there is a lot of that mindset. I mean, we do it on our own farm too, some of those things were very hard for us to change on our planter because they had not been changed in such a long time. They were kind of stuck. We're guilty of it too, but definitely working on constantly improving.


Brett Buehler:

At least with planters, I try to stay on that cutting edge, it's what intrigues me, it's what drives me, but I'm sure if I had a combine technician on my farm, he would probably look at my combine and say, "Are you serious?" It's not because I'm going to change or find different ways, I just didn't know.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. Yeah for sure.


Brett Buehler:

I'm sure it goes all directions.


Morgan Seger:

So can we maybe switch gears a little bit and talk about planter units? I was on Ag Leader's website and I saw some really ... you were talking about the videos and training materials. I saw some really cool videos of a 3D kind of inside look of the SureSpeed planter boxes or planter units. Could you walk us through what those are?


Brett Buehler:

Sure. SureSpeed is our newest planting solution, it's a meter system, but it also carries the seed all the way to the trench. It solves so many interesting problems that I would say a lot of the guys that I've talked to, maybe they didn't really even realize were problems. They had just accepted it that that's how it is. If I go back to ... I've been doing it this way for 40 years, is that a problem? Or I'm doing it wrong, may be not doing it wrong, but there is a better way. I'll use myself as an example, when I started farming, my dad had retired when I graduated college, he owned some ground. He put all of it into a CRP contract, a 10 years CRP contracts. I said I didn't want to farm. I was moving to Kansas. It was just not going to work.


Brett Buehler:

Fast forward, two years, and now I'm back here and I want a farm. So he still has all his equipment, gave me a full line of dilapidated equipment, but at least it got me going. I had stumbled across some ground that I had an option to rent from some cousins who had inherited ground, but they weren't farming. So, it really worked great. My dad said, "If you're planting soybeans and you don't see some on top of the ground, you're planting too deep." It's good. All right. Good to know. I started with that, but as I started learning more about planters and getting more into challenging status quo, I put several high-speed planters or high-speed cameras on my own planter.


Brett Buehler:

So this was years ago, and I still use it in clinics today. You see those seeds, the beans coming out of that tube, and because it's such a shallow trench, they are bouncing, because they have a lot of downwards velocity. They bounce right out of the trench. It made sense now, it's like that's why if I'm putting them at two inches, they end up staying in the trench, but beans aren't very strong plants. They're not going to farewell trying to push through two inches of the soil. I have accidentally forgot to switch my planter on depth, and I've done that before. I'm sure a lot of you guys listening has done that too. It's not fun, but watching those beans bounce out of the trench is one of the things that we solve with the SureSpeed system.


Brett Buehler:

We carry that seed all the way down to the trench and eliminate the downward velocity. We're dropping it into the trench from about a half inch from the bottom. So it just goes into the trench and stays there. That's a huge benefit to shallow planted crops. It's not something we think about in corn, but in beans is very important. The other thing about beans is, being they're round, it's very easy for them to move within the trench, but anytime a seed is airborne, it's much easier to move than if it's just sitting there in the bottom of the trench. So by setting it right down in the bottom and not letting it go airborne, that also helps us maintain nice spacing in soybeans.


Brett Buehler:

Boy, when we were field testing this thing last year, that was the mind blowing part to me. I have never seen a picket fence stand in soybeans. The other systems that are on the market, they're just not doing it. Is it a value? I would say anecdotally, I think there's some value there, but there's a lot of research yet to be proving that, and that's something that actually we'll be working on next year, is doing some field trials with soybeans to try to understand does having this nice spacing help us with yield or does it allow us to cut our populations a little bit? Pretty neat stuff, I think a lot of guys have never really thought about because we didn't have the technology to do it, but now that it's there, let's see what that helps us do.


Brett Buehler:

That's one example. The other pieces that this thing solves is, another personal experience. When I'm changing crops in the field, there's a lot of small clips and parts and the screws that you've got to remove to go from corn to soybeans, or at least with my meters I have ... and you drop one of those in the field, because I'm changing these in the field. You burn half hour, an hour until you just say, "I'm going to the parts store, and I'm going to go to my dealer and get a replacement because I can't find it." All of the little parts and pieces are retained in our system. There's nothing that you can drop.


Brett Buehler:

That's not already the size of a finger that you would just won't lose in the soil. So it's a simple thing like that, that can make a big difference. Think about it until you're like me and lost a lot. One of the [crosstalk 00:33:55] the time it takes to switch crops over, we knew it was fast, and I started practicing and I was able to change from corn to soybeans in 15 seconds, 15 seconds per row. Normally it's taken me several minutes per row, I've got somebody helping me and they're constantly asking questions. If I can do it in 15 seconds per row, it's just so much easier to do myself.


Brett Buehler:

I had a group of farmers say, "How many tries did it take you to do that?" I was like, "Yeah, it did take me a dozen tries to get to that 15 seconds." They said, "Well, show us how fast you can do it right here in front of us." It was a funny story. In that one attempt, I did it in 14 seconds [crosstalk 00:34:33] I was put on the spot, but it's incredibly simple to do the spacing of the system. There's other, on the outside, you look at it and it looks like a high-speed planting product. It does do very well at high-speed, but the other high-speed systems out there don't work as well as slow speeds.


Brett Buehler:

If you can plant at 10 miles an hour, our SureSpeed, it'll run up to 12 miles an hour. You can't do that everywhere. You've got parts of your field where you're turning, now you're slowing down for those end rows, and spacing is as important at slow speeds as it is at high speed. So we set out to make a system that, if you're planting at two miles an hour or you're planting at 12 miles an hour, you cannot pick out a stand difference. Visited some fields last year where in this planter pass we're going five miles an hour and then one next to it, we're going 12 miles an hour. Can your eyes pick out a difference? No, they cannot. It's absolutely impressive to see what that system can do.


Brett Buehler:

It's not just about getting good spacing, but combined with a SureForce system that we've talked about, with SureForce we can set a targeted gauge wheel load and make that good trench. So a good trench is important for getting that good seed depth, getting the right amount of moisture into the seed. I would say most farmers are saying, "Well, your default is a 100 pounds and that's way too much." Now I go back to that sand castle analogy again. Yeah, your openers can be at the proper depth, if you pull a gauge wheel and an opening disc off the planter that you have today, look at where that seed is placed. It is not directly at the bottom of opening discs. It's several inches behind.


Brett Buehler:

If you don't make a good seed trench that holds together, soil collapses right behind those, and now you've got lots of depth. It's not because there wasn't load on your gauge wheels, you should have enough load to create a good seed trench. We can target whatever weight we need for the ground conditions of that particular day, a 100 pounds is default, last year was dry. So, whether it's 150 pounds, we did some planting here at our test farm, just south of Ag Leader in Ames, and we had to run 200 pounds there just to create a good trench. It depends on how dry that soil is, but man, absolutely incredible tools that when you pair them with a planter that is fundamentally set up well, you're going to see better stands than you've ever seen before.


Morgan Seger:

That's awesome. That's awesome. So if someone is thinking of rebuilding a planter, are there any requirements that they would need to meet first to be able to work with your product?


Brett Buehler:

No. Ag Leader, we focus on aftermarket. So, probably the overwhelming point that I try to make to guys is, when they're looking at a system like this, they say, "My planter is 10 years old, I can't imagine putting that much money into it." Man, my planter is 30 years old and I bought it when I ... So, it wasn't when I first started farming, but I've had it for eight years or so, about seven years. I bought it for $14,000. Man, the amount of technology I have on it, I mean, we're pushing $50,000 in technology, but I've got my neighbors stopping by who all run new equipment, commenting on how nice of a stand mine has. They want to know what I'm using.


Brett Buehler:

Maybe it's a sense of pride for me, because I work at Ag Leader and I help develop these products. Man, I love telling them what I'm using. But when I hear that comment of my planter's too old, that's the whole point of using the things that Ag Leader makes, is we can take that planter that you think is too old and make it perform better than a brand new planter at a fraction of the price.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. I love that. I love that concept. We've seen, in our area, more and more people moving that direction. I mean, it seems to make a lot of sense and the technology is there.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Crop prices are really good now, but they weren't very recently. So, I run older equipment because I don't farm a lot of acres, and trying to buy used equipment is very tough because the guys who used to buy new were buying used, and that means the guy who used to buy later model, used stuff, is now buying older stuff or keeping what they've got. So man, it's incredible to see how it trickles down and how it's affected even my ability to find some of that lower costs, well used equipment.

Morgan Seger:

Yeah. Okay. I have another question. I mean, we're close to planting right now. How much time do growers need to give themselves to overhaul their planter? Probably not something we should be starting in April, right?


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Some of the stuff, every year I tell myself I'm going to do it over the summer, when the weather is nice, it seems like this year is no exception. Now it's winter time. Like today, right now it's six below zero here, and I'm working on my planter. I could have done it in the summer and gotten that thing situated for the season. Now, inevitably I always start in the winter. I have a whiteboard in my shop just to keep track of what things need to be. I have some attention put to them. So, starting in April certainly is not good. If you're up on getting equipment this particular year, I ordered all the wear parts that I need weeks ago, and I still don't have them. That's because everybody's doing it. Crop prices are good. I mean, sales are just through the roof on anything Ag related.


Brett Buehler:

If you're expecting to get something in a week, you might have some problem with that. So, definitely don't delay. Even if you were to delay and have those parts, the value and making sure your planter's ready to go to the field, just isn't worth the risk of putting it off. I know the planter seems simple and I know it seems like it's a foolproof design, but they are not, it is a complex system, even though it doesn't have that engine, even though it doesn't have that transmission, it's a complex machine.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. So, one more question. We tell people to make sure that they're checking their stuff ahead of time, and you mentioned putting the planter down on concrete. When it comes to spacing and singulation and stuff like that, how do you recommend growers check that? Is that something we wait until it's in the field and dig seed? Or is there a way they can do it before they get in the field?


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Great question. Almost every planter monitor in the last 10 years or so, has shown us how a lot of planter's singulating and how well it's spacing. Now, what I think most guys are maybe missing is that, seed sensor is somewhere in the seed tube. Most of them are right there in the middle, and a lot of stuff happens between the time of that seed passes the sensor and where it stops in the trench. And we mentioned soybeans bouncing and rolling, how they move in the trench and how the SureSpeed system solves that. Now you really got to get out in the field and measure it for yourself.


Brett Buehler:

If it's really bad, your eyes are going to pick out a difference, you don't even need to go out there with a tape measure, but time and time again, I've walked some fields and guys will say, "Well, my spacing is good." I'll look at the corn and say, "It's hard to do it without offending somebody." But it's like, "Does this look like good spacing to you?" Well, they'll consult their iPad and say, "Well, it says here it's good." It's like, "Well, I don't care what the iPad says. I care what's in the ground."


Morgan Seger:

What the field is saying!


Brett Buehler:

In the end, that's what really matters. Right? So, I would say you do have to be pretty cautious of what your monitor is telling you. Don't be afraid to ground-truth it. Like in the case of the SureSpeed system, there's so much more that happens after the sensor that we've built SureSpeed to solve. Does that seed bounce? Does that seed roll within the trench? Now there's a lot of other things happening there that most other systems just can't account for.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. So in SureSpeed, the sensor's going to be pretty much in the same location. It's just you've built in that transport down all the way down the seed tube that should help eliminate some of the noise.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. By holding that seed in its place, it eliminates the effects of vibration. So if you imagine a seed falling down, the seed tube that you've got on your planter today potentially, any amount of vibration in there, it's a hard plastic seed tube, and that seed's pretty hard as well, and that starts to deflect the seed. The more deflection that's happening inside that seed tube, the longer it takes for that seed to get out to the bottom.


Brett Buehler:

Backwards swept design of seed tubes is also there to kick the seed out at about four and a half to five miles an hour. That's why people traditionally plant it four and half to five miles an hour. There's a great MythBusters episode on this, where they're driving their car at 40 miles an hour and they shoot a soccer ball off the back of it at 40 miles an hour, and it drops straight down. Seed tube is the same way. If we're going slower than four and a half, or we're going faster than five, that seed can move within the trench.


Brett Buehler:

So having a system that can adjust the speed at which the seed comes out, helps eliminate that velocity, whether it's forwards or rearwards, and laying it down on the trench also eliminates that bounce. Again, a seed's more apt to move if it's airborne than if it's touching, it's got friction on the side of the trench. So, having those two things together are really important for getting that nice consistency of spacing.


Morgan Seger:

Sure, sure. I like that analogy. As you were talking about it, I couldn't help, but think of the seed as like Plinko on the prices, where it just bounces around and around and you hope it lands in the $10,000 slot, but it might land in the zero slot.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. Now, imagine that Plinko board being shook violently, it's going to take even longer for that Plinko to reach the bottom.


Morgan Seger:

That's right. Well, if someone who is listening would like to learn more about your products or any of the information you're sharing today, where would you recommend they go to get started?


Brett Buehler:

Well, first of all, at Ag Leader.com, we feature all of our products there. We're not just planter product, I know that's what we talked about today, but Ag Leader started the yield monitor back in the early 90s, and that's how this company got started. We offer solutions for sprayers, for toolbars. If you're split applying, we've got some data management solutions and we have a full farm solution with our system.


Brett Buehler:

Again, I'm partial to planters, so I spend way too much time talking about planters, but very powerful tools for every operation on the farm. If you are interested in learning more about specifically SureForce and SureSpeed, I follow these planters all year long in the field. I'm pretty active on Twitter. So if you follow me @Buehlerfarm, you can get that stuff that's live from the field. You can follow Ag Leader on Facebook. There's so many options to seeing how neat these things are. But if you're just looking at the website, things take a while to get produced, that's what I love about Twitter, is I can be in the field one day following a planter and I'll post what I see that day, and you get that quick up to the minute while it's happening, raw information.


Brett Buehler:

I'm always happy to offer that. I know that a lot of the guys who follow along to it really appreciate that real world feedback. It hasn't had the eyes of marketing looking at it saying, "Well, I don't know if we should show this." It's like, "It's what's happening, it's what's real, we're going to show it."


Morgan Seger:

Yep, and I think that's what makes it so helpful and valuable. We will make sure to link out to that and to your Twitter handle in our show notes. So if anyone wants to access them there, they can at precisionagreviews.com. Now, one more question I have for you that I like to ask our guests before we wrap up here is, if there's one technology that you are most excited about and it can be in or outside of agriculture, really no limits. Is there any one thing that you are most excited about?


Brett Buehler:

Oh boy. To me, the trend towards autonomy is pretty exciting. I really like following along who's investing there, what new technologies are enabling the autonomy. Ag Leader, we're not focused so much as a company on full autonomy, and a lot of the farmers I talked to, they farm because they enjoy farming. The idea of autonomy doesn't please them because, if they were only in it for the buck, they'd be doing something else. So, they want to maintain control, they want to be in that tractor, they want to be in the combine. They don't want a machine doing it for them, but we focus a lot on ... what's the word I'm looking for? Partial autonomy or things to help improve how ... you're still pulling your planter, but that planter is helping you become a better operator because it's automating some of the process.


Brett Buehler:

Ag Leader is of course into autonomy, but I think when most guys think of autonomy, they envision robots out there doing it for you. It is interesting to see how that trend is going to become more mainstream, if it becomes more mainstream, but I do believe it will. I think we've got 15 years, at least, before you start seeing that stuff become mainstream, where you've got an army of little one or two real planters that go out and do all planting for you, and until then, we're going to keep automating things on the planter that you've got, that 10 year old planter that you think is not worth updating, is certainly worth updating.


Morgan Seger:

Yep. Prime candidate. That's awesome. We actually just did an episode on swarm farming and that was something I asked. I'm like, "So what about all these guys that just really like the smell of dirt, they like being in the machines, what are they going to do?" It's definitely going to be an evolution or something to watch and see if there's pushback on that in the way that basically the new roles evolve as things become more and more autonomous.


Brett Buehler:

Yeah. There was a time, I think, when tractors came out that people who were driving horses really liked driving horses, they didn't want to drive a tractor. That will phase out, and I think autonomy will probably end up that way too. But that is just one, we have the technology, but the guys who were calling the shots, aren't wanting to do it. You've got to wait until you've got a new generation in there, who appreciates or enjoy that more than the current generation. So, that's going to contribute to the leg of this becoming more mainstream, but again, tractor technology was the exact same.


Morgan Seger:

That was the exact same analogy he gave to you. So I think you are a spot on there. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time today. Like I said, we'll link out to your resources there. So if anyone wants to follow along, they can find you there.


Brett Buehler:

Excellent. Thank you.


Morgan Seger:

All right. Thanks Brett. Thanks for tuning into another episode of Precision Points. I really enjoyed this conversation and it has me thinking, "What can we be doing this summer when we wrap up spring planting to get ready, so we're not working on this stuff in the snow?" I'm also actually really excited to follow along the research they're doing on singulation and plant to plant spacing in soybeans and the impact that it may or may not have on yield. So, I'm excited to see some of the data from that, following this growing season.


Morgan Seger:

If you are interested in following along with Brett story, like he said, @Buehlerfarm on Twitter, and Buehler is spelled B-U-E-H-L-E-R. So, wanted to make sure you had that, and of course, we will always link out to all of their information in our show notes. You can also go to precisionagreviews.com to read grower source reviews and check out our expert advice on our blog. Until next time, this has been Precision Points, lets grow together.


Morgen Seger:

Thanks for tuning into today's episode. To hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review and subscribe to Precision Points. Visit precisionagreviews.com for show notes from this episode, and read expert advice on the blog, share your experience with the Precision Ag products you use and check out our network of farmer reviews. Let's grow together.

Host: Morgan Seger

Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.



Guest: Brett Buehler

Brett Buehler graduated from Iowa State University in 2010 with degrees in Animal Ecology and Agricultural Systems Technology. After graduation, he moved to Kansas to pursue a career in agricultural equipment manufacturing. After a year in Kansas, Brett moved to Iowa where he began working for Ag Leader and started farming with his sister. At Ag Leader, he has worked in the technical support department, product management, and, most recently, the agronomy department. Brett focuses on sharing the value of Ag Leader solutions with those who haven’t yet invested in them, as well as helping those who have obtain the most value from their investment.



This content is brought to you through a sponsorship with Ag Leader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Precision Ag Reviews or its editorial staff.

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