Sectional Control Pays Its Way

When Brett Casavant was having some issues with his liquid fertilizer application set up, he decided to take the entire unit one step further and upgrade to sectional control.

“We got the pricing on what we’d need to upgrade, crunched some numbers and were surprised to see that the unit could pay for itself in one year,” says Casavant, who farms near Tisdale, Sask. “That’s nearly unheard of in agriculture.”

Casavant estimated his savings by assuming on overlap of half a drill width on each field, which is pretty standard. He then multiplied the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied on that overlapped area by 48 cents per pound of N. He compared that cost to the cost of a sectional control system, which could eliminate this overlap. “It came out looking like a 1.5 times payback in the first year so we went for it.”

The cost of upgrading to sectional control was in the neighborhood of $5,000 for Casavant because of his existing set up. “We run a newer 60-foot Seed Hawk drill and already had a Raven module on it. We have John Deere’s GS2 interface and variable rate module for our sprayer, and the two brands of equipment worked well together. The inner workings of the sectional control on the drill are different than the sprayer, but we didn’t notice any difference in actually using the equipment,” he says.

John Young, sales manager with Pattison Liquid Systems in Lemberg, Sask., sold Casavant the sectional control unit and his company helped to install the manifold, valves and hoses necessary for set up. The staff at Maple Farm Equipment handled the technical end of things to ensure the different components all “spoke” to each other, Casavant says. Young says that the price of the sectional control unit is going to vary depending on what you need to add or change on your drill and what technical components you already have. He adds that the roughly $5,000 price tag should account for the actual Pattison sectional control components.

PAYBACK IN THE FIRST YEAR

Young and the Pattison team worked with several producers this past summer to evaluate the ease of use and cost savings of sectional control. They looked at nitrogen savings only, but Young adds that there’s no reason the technology couldn’t translate to all other fertilizer and seed as well. A full analysis is on the way, but based on preliminary findings, Young is confident that the unit saved a minimum of two per cent per field and could save closer to eight per cent in smaller irregular shaped fields.

In one example, a farmer with an 84-foot drill farmed 6,306 acres. Based on his maps, he eliminated the application of fertilizer to the tune of roughly $23,000 worth of fertilizer — equivalent of 332 acres. There can be other benefits, too. This particular farmer was used to seeing oats and barley lodging at the headlands due to over-application of fertilizer, but not this year. Then there’s the warm and fuzzy feel-good message of decreased potential environmental impact to consider.

Problems have been virtually non-existent for the system, with only one farmer raising a concern with plugged lines in heavy clay soil. “Many variables can come into play — seeding tool characteristics, style of openers, fertilizer placement, speed of application and so on,” Young says. Pattison is working on understanding what’s happening and finding a solution. “To us, this is an isolated case.”

For Casavant, his on-the-ground evaluation went perfectly. “We were completely happy with the sectional control unit,” he says. It not only paid for the sectional control system, he estimates he saved nearly $3,500 in fertilizer costs over and above that.

“We only had this set up on our one drill, and for us it’s a no-brainer,” he says. They covered just over half their land (about 6,300 acres) with the sectional control and had very few, if any, issues. “Our fields are quite square, with few tough corners,” he says, noting that the more variable your field shape the more quickly the cost savings add up.

Casavant’s second drill is a much older Bourgault and this winter they’ll evaluate if it’s worth upgrading or if it’s time to buy a new drill. “If we buy new or decide to hang on to this old drill for more than two or three years, we’ll definitely install sectional control on it, too.”

Lyndsey Smith is a Grainews field editor in Lumsden, Sask. Email her at [email protected]

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