Farmers and agronomists have long known that while one variety of corn or soybeans may be great on one soil type, that same variety may be lousy on another soil type. The problem has always been that when the farmer had two different soil types or soil conditions in the same field, he had no quick and easy way to plant different varieties in the same field, until now.
Several companies now have seeding equipment that can allow a farmer to change his variety, as well as his planting population, automatically as he crosses the field. On our farm, we have a 24-row planter with 2-compartment boxes for each row for corn or soybean planting. We also have a drill with a 2-compartment air cart for soybeans or small grain. Both of these machines can plant two different varieties on the go.
This may not pay for everyone, but let me describe a couple of situations where it comes in handy.
1. Dramatically varying soil types. Let’s say you have a sandy strip that runs through some good, heavy ground. Why not plant a drought-tolerant variety at a low population in the sand and a racehorse number in the good ground?
2. Dramatically varying soil pH. Thousands of fields in the U.S. have major soil pH issues. In the Midwest, we often find high pH spots (over 7.4) and low pH areas (under 6.3) in the same field. In pH’s over 7.4, iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) in soybeans is very common. Plants turn yellow due to an inability to utilize soil iron in that high pH. In severe cases, this can cut yields in half or worse. One of the best short-term strategies in high pH ground is to plant an “IDC-tolerant” variety. However, no IDC-tolerant soybean I know of is a topyielder in low pH ground. Why not plant the great IDC bean in high pH soil and plant the normal yield champ in low pH ground?
Every farmer needs to calculate his own return on investment numbers, and with today’s farm economy where it is, I don’t expect immediate adoption of this new technology. However, 10 years from now it will likely be the standard, and it’s another reason why we expect yields to continue to climb for farmers in the U.S.
If you want to look at this from an environmental standpoint, it’s also a home run. Anytime a seed variety is planted in an area where it shouldn’t be, we as farmers say, “It’s under more stress.” Whether we’re talking about human beings, livestock or crops, added stress means less productivity, greater chance for disease and overall poor health. In crops, that means a farmer needs more herbicide, more fungicide and more insecticide. It also means more risk for soil erosion, less soil fertility gets used and less oxygen is produced by the plants for our atmosphere.
While agriculture has certainly benefited from many different kinds of technology in recent years, new equipment innovations are often overlooked. This multi-variety equipment advancement is something that will help change agriculture in a positive way moving forward.