Potential seed savings lures more farmers toward row shut-offs

Potential seed savings lures more farmers toward row shut-offs

Corn Illustrated: Why would one invest in modern technology on a 30-year-old planter?

One farmer recently related that he is still happy with his finger pick-up planter which now has lots of age on it, and he maintains it regularly. The one thing he thinks would pay would be installing row shut-offs so that he wouldn't waste seed on the ends and point rows. He seemed to be looking for assurance that he could save enough to pay for it.

Related: How accurate are today's ag GPS systems?

Based on data that has flowed across this desk, the pay-off depends upon the initial investment and how many acres he plants each season. If he could get set up to do this for $5,000 and plants 1,000 acres of corn, it goes like this.

Lost yield: Too many plants on end rows can eat up yield. These ears with blank tips are from end rows where plants were crowded by overplanting.

Some agronomists and ag economists who have studied the payback figure a 3% savings in seed cost. If corn seed costs $3 per 1,000 seeds, and you save 1,000 seeds per acre, that's a saving of $3 per acre. That's $3,000 in seed savings alone per season.

Some say that's low. Others say you also must factor in higher yield on end rows because you're not doubling up on population and cutting yield. With wider planters end rows take up a larger part of the field than in the past. If end rows are 10% of a field and you cut yield 20% on end rows, you're cutting whole field yield by 2%. Even at $3.50 per bushel corn, that's around $15 per acre. Now you're talking $15,000 in more income from better yield on end rows, and the decision becomes a no-brainer. You could pay off the investment in the equipment in less than one year.

Related: End Rows in a Corn Field Tell A Story

You can plug in your own numbers. If it costs more than $5,000 to start because you don 't have any GPS technology, or if you only raise 500 acres of corn, or if you don't plant enough end rows to justify that much yield hit, your results will be different and pay back will be longer.

A University of Kentucky ag economist did the math a couple years ago. He concluded that for the average producer, they could pay back the investment in row shut-offs in 1.5 years or less. The only faster payback on an investment was for section shut-offs on sprayers. Once pay back is met, everything from that point forward is profit because of the investment you made.

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