When seeds are planted beneath the soil they enter a new world—a world farmers have long tried to understand and perfect. What would you do if you had a window that showed what is going on beneath the ground? This year, Precision Planting is beta testing their new product called SmartFirmer, which gives farmers a look into the mystery below the soil’s surface. The company expects commercial launch in late 2017. The cobalt exterior combines the traditional seed-packing role of a seed firmer with an optical sensor protected by a sapphire lens that scans what’s going on 2” below the soil surface. An enhanced look below the soil will allow farmers to automate seeding rate and placement and manually adjust row cleaners to achieve the optimal seed environment.
“Growers who use this will automatically know their percent of organic matter, residue content and percent moisture,” says Cory Muhlbauer, Precision Planting agronomy lead. “SmartFirmer will give you a row-by-row high-resolution map like you’ve never seen.” The sensor technology attaches to Precision Planting’s current 20/20 SeedSense monitor and immediately shows readings on the monitor and on Climate FieldView app. Using SmartFirmer, farmers will also be able to automate seed rate based on soil organic matter. “We’re introducing the first-ever real-time control and mapping,” Muhlbauer says. “All farmers will have to do is pick what seed population they want at specific organic matter percentages.” For example, if soil hits 3% organic matter farmers can set the planter to automatically boost corn planting population. Alternatively, in low organic matter areas, the population can be dropped to avoid wasting seed in less productive soils. Additionally, the SmartFirmer will read soil moisture content, allowing the farmer to confirm the seeds being planted are in good moisture. If not, depth can be adjusted accordingly, he adds. No-till, heavy residue and cover crops shouldn’t interfere with accurate soil readings, the company says. “SmartFirmer detects residue in-furrow and reports back to farmers how clean the furrow is,” says Dale Koch, Precision Planting research and development product manager. “From there, the optical sensor takes the residue out of the signal for organic matter and moisture readings.” The reading can lead to planting adjustments, such as increasing the force of row cleaners to clear away residue, Koch adds. When SmartFirmer hits the market, it will be available at any Precision Planting Premier Dealer. The company says the new firmers are more durable than traditional plastic materials currently on the market.