Even though some input costs have dropped from 2008 levels, the outlook for the future suggests price volatility is going to be the name of the game. As a result, it is worth taking a closer look at technologies that can minimize inputs and help keep costs in check, especially during price peaks.
Seed Hawk’s Sectional Control Technology (SCT) is one of those systems. “It can save up to 10 per cent in seed and fertilizer,” says Seed Hawk president Pat Beaujot. That’s what field trials on the company’s test farm revealed.
As the name implies, SCT divides a drill up into separate sections and controls the flow of seed and fertilizer to each one, independently. When one section overlaps previously-seeded ground, product flow is stopped and the system automatically lifts those openers out of the ground.
Anyone familiar with Accu-Boom sprayer technology will be pretty comfortable with SCT, according to Beaujot. At the heart of Seed Hawk’s SCT is a Raven Viper-Pro product-controller system. Bin-level sensing, yield mapping and wireless access are all part of the myriad of features SCT offers.
And probably the most impressive of those is wireless access. That means you can monitor a machine’s seeding progress in real time from a computer in the farm office, keeping tabs on such things as when the cart needs refilling, fertilizer application rates and how many acres have been covered. SCT could allow a large-scale farmer to spend the day tracking the seeding progress of one or more seeding outfits from his office or even a laptop computer in the cab of a pick-up truck.
As well, the system is compatible with auto-steer, which makes for a nearly hands-free operation. “It takes a lot of stress out of seeding. There’s a lot going on,” says Beaujot referring to all the functions an operator must control when seeding. “(An operator) can not only forget to turn banks off, but to turn them back on,” he adds, which results in having to go back over ground already covered to make a second pass. That wastes time and resources.
A second GPS antenna is supplied with the SCT package to mount directly on the air drill. “We found the tractor didn’t make a very accurate map of where the seeder was going,” says Beaujot. That is particularly true when the tractor has to swing wide in order to have the drill move into tight corners.
SCT takes its cues from the drill-mounted antenna. That allows for greater accuracy. And to further enhance its precision operation, the system can be set up to compensate for the delay between metering out seed and fertilizer and delivering it to the openers. “Viper-Pro takes that into account,” says Beaujot.
The Raven Viper-Pro can then precisely shut off the flow exactly at the end of a seeding pass without any overlap, which is something an operator wouldn’t be able to consistently do with the kind of accuracy SCT is capable of. “Those delay times may be different for each seed and fertilizer,” adds Beaujot. “We learned we had to set different look-aheads for each product.”
SCT controls up to eight openers per section. The number of sections in each drill then depends on the overall width of the implement. For example, a 64-foot drill with 12-inch opener spacing would have eight-foot sections of eight openers each. When SCT senses a section is passing over previously seeded ground, it not only shuts off the product flow, but it raises those openers out of the ground. “If you just turned off the seed and fertilizer, you’d be ploughing through seeded areas,” says Beaujot, but SCT prevents that, too.
Although adding SCT to a new air drill can increase the sticker price by about $40,000, the extra, up-front cost may be well worth it. “If fertilizer and seed were $60 per acre, after 7,000 acres of seeding it’s paid for,” says Beaujot. “For some farmers, that’s a one-year payback.”
Assuming a farmer keeps the drill for five or 10 years before trading it in, the system will have not only paid for itself, but it will have generated a significant return. And, adds Beaujot, a feature like SCT will increase the drill’s trade-in value, “The seeders we built in ‘93 are still operating,” says Beaujot. So the technology is likely to have a long lifespan.
Seed Hawk introduced SCT at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show last June, and it is now producing drills equipped with it for 2009. But the company is only producing a limited number at this point. “This is the second test year,” says Beaujot. Customers who opted for SCT on new air drills will be getting close company support as the performance of the new production models is monitored through the 2009 season.
Providing all goes well, Seed Hawk expects to make a broader offering available to growers for the 2010 season. That means interested buyers will be able to negotiate sales terms on them when the company introduces its 2010 models this September.
Beaujot said he expects that Seed Hawk’s patented SCT technology will eventually be available worldwide through its partnership with Vaderstad, the Swedish seeding-equipment and implement manufacturer. The no-till technology combined with input-saving features like SCT, it seems, is gaining ground in off-shore markets, too. “They’re finding out it can establish a pretty good crop,” he says.
And Beaujot is optimistic about SCT’s future. “The new (independent-link) opener technology created a shift in the industry. I think SCT will do the same thing,” he says.
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.