Field Day Highlights

MSU Extension Shares Research On High-Speed Planting


The MAFES Black Belt Branch Experiment Station in Brooksville, Mississippi, was the site of an inaugural field day hosted by Mississippi State University Extension featuring high-speed planting and advanced planting technologies.

Wes Lowe, left, and Mike Mulvaney discuss planting technology in this field of high-speed-planted cotton at the MAFES Black Belt Branch Experiment Station in Brooksville, Mississippi.

Strip plots for high-speed-planted cotton, soybeans and corn were shown to attendees while MSU Extension personnel explained the significance of what they were viewing. Following are some highlights from the event that was held June 5.

The tour began in a high-speed-planted cotton field. Mike Mulvaney, Ph.D., Hartwig Endowed Chair for Soybean Agronomy, kicked off the discussion by acknowledging that although some cotton farmers are already planting fast on cotton — 6 ½ to 7 mph — the researchers decided to amp it up to 11 mph to see what would happen.

He pointed out that the stand looked fairly poor, which probably was due to missing a rain.

“We tried to dust it in at ½-inch going 11 mph, which is really hard to do,” Mulvaney said. “I should not have done that, but I was counting on getting a rain. Instead, we missed two rains right after planting, which resulted in a spotty stand. Now that it has rained on us, I can see more cotton coming up, so the stand will be alright.”

Speed-Planting Benefits

During the high-speed planting field day, Wes Lowe talks about what the industry calls a “speed tube” — an automated seed delivery mechanism.  He said this component is used to provide seed control from the seed meter until placement in the seed trench. Also pictured with Lowe on the right is Jacob Meadows, research technician.

He noted that when he is using speed planting in what he called “plastic” crops — like cotton, soybeans and canola — he is not really in it for the accuracy. The reason is these crops can take some variability within the stand. They are still able to produce a good yield because the plants can branch out and fill the gaps. Corn is considered to be a non-plastic crop because it is not going to branch out to fill a skip.

Mulvaney said he is interested in increasing planting speed to allow the farmer to plant more acres within the optimum planting window.

In his presentation, Wes Lowe, Ph.D., assistant professor – Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said they are carrying out this research to try to determine just how far you can push the planting technology and what that does to your bottom line.

“The true value for this technology can be a little tricky to define, and it’s not just captured in the dollars and cents of inputs, yield and commodity prices. It’s also found in increased productivity and efficiency,” Lowe said. “We want to determine how many more acres we can plant in the optimum planting window to increase the crop’s yield potential and improve the bottom line and also evaluate how much time we can save. These time savings ultimately free up labor to perform additional tasks on the farm and loosens the bonds of being ‘married’ to the crop. Hopefully, this reduces some farming stress and allows our producers time to do things outside the farm.”

Speed-Planted Soybeans

Mike Mulvaney said soybeans were speed planted into this field that contained 7,000 pounds of rye biomass, which was not rolled.

The next stop on the tour featured speed-planted soybeans. However, this particular field was no ordinary soybean field.

The researchers had put out 1 bushel of rye per acre and then flew on 50 units of nitrogen because it was too wet to come in with a tractor. The final result was 7,000 pounds of rye biomass, which was not rolled.

“We wanted to make this experiment as hard as we could,” Mulvaney said. “I am really happy with the stand we got. We tried 16 different row cleaner configurations at 5 mph and 10 mph. All the treatments had interlocked row cleaners.”

Increase Soybean Planting Progress

Mississippi’s optimal planting window is between April 10 and May 1. In looking at the typical planting progress for Mississippi soybeans, the researcher said that 40% to 45% of the state’s total acreage had been planted.

“That means 60% of our total soybean acreage is planted late — outside our optimum window,” Mulvaney said. “So, in a perfect world, if we go from planting 5 mph to 10 mph, we could plant twice as fast and have 80% of our total soybean acres planted within the optimum window. I feel like this is very low-hanging fruit to increase yields.

“If we reduce the number of acres planted after the optimum window, economics show a 2,300-bushel increase on a 2,000-acre soybean patch. Then, you could be looking at a net return for a single year on 2,000 acres of nearly $35,000. That is my take-home message.”

Be Proactive

Mulvaney said the researchers’ job is to show what works and what doesn’t. “I’m trying to make this planting technology feasible for farmers who plant cover crops and those who plant double crops,” he said. “I want them to be able to speed plant.”

Lowe points out another advantage of advanced planting technology is by getting the crop planted faster, farmers can get the crop out a little quicker, allowing them to perform fall tillage, preparing fields for earlier spring planting.

For more information about automated seed delivery, visit This is the second part of a two-part series on advanced planting technologies from Cotton Cultivated written by Lowe and some of his colleagues.

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