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Unlocking planter performance and precision payback with ISOBUS

March 13, 2023

As farmers prepare for spring planting, many run through a detailed checklist of mechanical maintenance needs, proactively replacing worn or damaged parts, rather than risk a costly breakdown in the field.

That same meticulous evaluation should apply to the precision technology that farmers trust to accurately space seed at a consistent depth while applying the right amount of fertilizer. Seed singulation, row clutches and variable-rate can deliver some of the best precision payback, but antiquated technology could significantly restrict ROI.

“It’s amazing the number of farms we visit that have newer equipment and high-accuracy autosteer, but are still working a ground drive planter,” says Wade Stewart, Trimble Product Team Manager for Displays, Guidance Actuators and ECUs. “Sure, it still works, but a lot of efficiency gains are being lost with obsolete planter technology.”

A simple, affordable way to create more flexibility and add functionality to machinery already on the farm is through versatile ISOBUS-enabled solutions, such as Trimble’s Field-IQ and Field-IQ ISOBUS systems.

“If you’ve got an ISO-capable tractor and monitor, you’re just a few dollars away from unlocking far more savings in seed and fertilizer,” Stewart says. “It’s somewhat hidden potential, because we’ve seen new equipment on farms that only utilize about 10% of the capabilities of factory-installed technology.”

Elevating the performance of planter technology – even by a few percentage points – can lead to substantial savings. Eliminating skipped or double-planted areas, especially on point rows, can save several bags of seed every year. The ultimate goal is increased yield, while potentially saving seed in the process.  

Stewart notes that over-planted areas force emerging plants to compete for nutrients, and Field-IQ can alert operators of a seed placement, spacing or other planter issues that could impact emergence.

“Post-emergence is not the time you want to discover you have a singulation problem with your planter,” Stewart says. “If it’s an older planter that a farmer regularly rebuilds, you want to proactively get alerts on vacuum settings, air flow, seal leaks or worn seed discs.”

ISO control also gives farmers more freedom to manage a mixed fleet without compatibility headaches. If an operation has multiple tractor brands and in-cab displays with ISOBUS capability, a brand-agnostic solution can control the implement from either tractor.

And, even if an operation isn’t planning to change equipment colors, ISOBUS solutions can increase the functionality of older generation displays and increase ROI.

“There are a lot of planters out there still equipped with 20-year-old seed monitoring systems that don’t have GPS and run on a simple LCD screen that only provides average seeding rates,” Stewart says. “As those displays get to the end of their lifecycle, some farmers have them rebuilt when, for a few more dollars, they could potentially add mapping, variable rate and row control with an ISO module.”

ISO-compatible displays - like Trimble’s GFX or TMX-2050 displays - and ISO Electronic Control Units (ECUs) are cornerstones to increasing the capability of current equipment and allow for expansion in the future.

“With a base ECU, farmers can move from ground drive to hydraulic drive with their planters and begin to incorporate variable-rate and electric clutches for row-by-row control,” Stewart says. “These are incremental upgrades that can make a big economic impact on the farm.”

For farmers who apply liquid fertilizer at planting, variable-rate can stretch their investment. Trimble’s Field-IQ ISOBUS Liquid Control System equips growers with versatile nutrient management that can also support liquid applications with sprayers, sidedress applicators and strip-till rigs.

“There’s a lot of pull-type sprayers coming from the factory with limited technology that only allows for speed adjustment and manual control of up to three sections,” Stewart says. “An ISO upgrade allows operators to add mapping and automatic shut-off for point rows.”

As you prepare for spring planting, consider the current capabilities of your planter control technology, and evaluate the productivity of other implements you rely on every year. Are you maximizing the performance of your equipment and fully capitalizing on your precision ag investment to maintain a sustainable operation?

Given the cost of equipment and inputs today, farmers can’t afford to overlook the drag that outdated systems can have on yield and overall farm profitability. Contact your local Trimble reseller today and learn how ISOBUS solutions can increase equipment functionality and add flexibility to your farm.