Name: Zachary Ward
Farm: Country Hill Farm
Location: Ryan, Iowa
Size: 1,800 acres
Crops Grown: Corn (vertical tillage) and Soybeans (no-till)
Precision Pain Point: Prioritizing precision payback on a budget
Prioritizing Planter Technology Contributes to $12,000 Seed Savings - in One Year
Two used tractors and a grain auger might not seem like the ideal inventory of farm equipment to start an 1,800-acre corn and soybean operation. But it was the only machinery Zach Ward and his father, Charles, had in their shed when they formed Country Hill Farm in 2018.
After purchasing land that had previously been part of a larger family-owned operation near Ryan, Iowa, the Wards understood that rounding out their fleet required shrewd investment in innovation to develop economic stability.
“The first year we were on our own, we basically had a blank slate,” Zach says. “We had the ground, we had the facilities, but very little equipment. We secured financing, but needed to decide what would be our most important piece of equipment to invest in the success of the operation.”
Calculating Cost & Convenience
Viewing planting as the most critical part of consistently producing a profitable crop, the most expensive - and only new piece of equipment the Wards purchased - was a 16-row Harvest International planter, outfitted with Precision Planting’s SpeedTube seed delivery system, vDrive electric drive with vSet seed meters, DeltaForce row-by-row downforce control and CleanSweep row cleaner adjustment.
The $220,000 investment was a calculated one, according to Zach, who crunched the numbers on buying and updating an older model 16-row John Deere planter and adding aftermarket precision tools.
“We could have spent about $100,000 on a decent planter, but then adding all the technology and replacing or updating parallel arms, parallel arm linkages, disc openers and other wear parts, the numbers really didn’t pencil out,” he says. “We liked that we were able to customize the Harvest International bar with the technology we wanted and were most comfortable using.”
They also didn’t need to overspend on tractor horsepower, finding that a 2012 Case IH 315 Magnum paired well with the planter for consistent speed and performance for no-tilling soybeans into corn stubble and following a vertical tillage pass with a Landoll machine for corn.
The Wards added Ag Leader Technology’s Compass display for guidance and coverage mapping - a conservative, but purposeful investment - to complement the suite of modern technology on the planter, according to Zach.
“All we needed the planter tractor to do was follow an accurate guidance line,” he says. “So we were able to save some money on the monitor, but we made sure we invested in RTK-level correction for planting with Ag Leader’s GPS 6000 receiver.”
Substantial Seed Savings
The priority the Wards placed on planting immediately paid off, with the most significant return on investment being five-figure seed savings from individual row shutoffs.
“We farm relatively square fields, but have a lot of waterways, which really cuts our fields up into smaller sections,” Zach says.”The ability to shut row units off when we’re crossing those waterways, just in the first year, we returned a full pro box of seed corn, which is 45 units of seed, and on average, $225 per unit. So that’s about $10,000 we saved.”
The Wards realized similar savings in soybeans, returning a full pro box of seed (45 units) the first year using row shutoffs, which at about $60 per unit was another $2,700 back in their pockets. While they haven’t seen the same dramatic savings, Zach says the first-year benefits allowed them to be smarter with their up-front investment in seed each year.
Variable-rate seeding is stretching that investment even further, especially in fields where soil type can change every few feet. Zach says some areas can go from nice heavy loam to blow sand in one pass.
“We started building variable-rate planting maps to even out yields and adjust populations accordingly,” he says. “After our first year, we saw much more consistent yields, especially in corn. Our farm is split in two different locations, and in the southern fields which were part of our family farm with better soil, we’re getting 230-bushel corn and 65-bushel soybeans.
“But we’ve seen more dramatic corn yield increases on our northern acres with rougher soil to where we consistently yield 200-210 bushels per acre compared to 180-190 when we started three years ago with that blank slate.”
Get some timely tips on how to maximize the performance of your planter technology before getting to the field this spring. The Ohio State professor shares advice on installing the latest firmware, double-checking your guidance lines and backing up your planting data.
More about Precision Ag Reviews
Learn how other innovators are evolving and solving precision farming technology challenges in our Precision Ag Reviews Podcast Series, featuring the most progressive manufacturers, farmers and ag technology entrepreneurs.
Be sure to "Write a Review" of current precision tools being used on your operation, or add a new one to our growing list.
Register for our eNewsletter to stay up on the latest ag technology being adopted and evaluated by your peers!