Eyes in the Furrow

The new SmartFirmer® seed firmer from Precision Planting® takes the guesswork out of soil conditions when planting.

By Marilyn Cummins | Photos By Precision Planting

The SmartFirmer seed firmer may be the new Swiss army knife of planting tools. With its in-furrow sensing capabilities, it shows an operator real-time readings for soil organic matter, moisture, temperature and furrow residue while recording high-definition field maps.

According to Matt Bennett, sales lead for Precision Planting, the SmartFirmer also physically firms the seed into the bottom of the trench for optimum seed-to-soil contact, exactly like the company’s Keeton® seed firmer. The SmartFirmer connects into the same quick-attach bracket as the Keeton, as well, making it “plug and play” for a White Planters VE planter, recording and reporting all the furrow information up to the cab.

While a grower pilots the tractor, Bennett says, “he can actually look at an organic-matter map. He can watch soil moisture. He can watch residue and make real-time decisions, whether it’s adjusting a row cleaner to move more [of that residue], or to actually stop the planter and decide that he needs to go deeper because he doesn’t have enough moisture to plant the seed at that depth.”

In 2017 trials, corn planted in soils with higher organic matter as measured by SmartFirmer yielded an average of 16 bushels more per each 1% increase in organic matter. (Figure 1)

Jason Webster, lead commercial agronomist for Precision Planting, used the SmartFirmer in several plots at the company’s Precision Technology Institute in 2018. He emphasizes the tool’s ability to measure organic matter. “Organic matter is a crucial part of understanding our soils,” he says. “The higher organic matter we have generally means the higher the yield potential.”

SmartFirmer on-farm trials in 2017 bore that out (see Figure 1), showing a 16-bushel corn yield increase for every 1% increase in organic matter. “So, if we can spatially determine where some of our highest-yielding soils are versus lowest-yielding soils, now we can put SmartFirmer to work for us,” Webster says. “As we’re planting, we can actually control our seeding rate or even the genetics that we’re planting,” to maximize production in each zone.

He also gets excited talking about SmartFirmer and soil moisture, a critical factor in getting even emergence of the crop. “Finally, we have something that can tell us the moisture level in the trench, in real time. And we’re making that spatial map of how much moisture we have in the field” (see Figure 2). That’s important not only for planting that crop at the right depth, he says, but also for making a precise map of wet pockets in a field that can then be fixed before next season.

Kevin Iczkowski, who hosted the Aug. 14–15, 2018, AGCO® Crop Tour™ events on his farm at Edgar, Wisconsin, (and works in sales for Swiderski Equipment), says having SmartFirmer on the planter showed how dry the soil was at the prescribed depth for shallow-depth strips in the study. “They knew how that corn would react just by seeing what they were planting into on the screen and maps,” he says. “It was clear how SmartFirmer could show you how to find and plant into moisture on the go.”

See the impact of soil moisture on emergence. (Figure 2)

Bennett and Webster say that depending on one’s goals, a grower can put a single SmartFirmer on a planter to map soil management zones on his farm, or he or she can put a minimum of one on every fourth row unit to be able to gather enough information to control seeding rate and genetic adjustments.

“The beautiful part about this is doing it while we’re planting,” Webster says of the information SmartFirmer gathers. “We’re not making an extra trip in the field. Once I install this, it’s doing the sensing for me and the real-time reporting to me in the cab of the tractor.”