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New Ag Leader products tackle yield loss from poor establishment

by Mar 7, 2017Australia, International Perspectives

Making every seed count is the focus for Australian grower John Piper, with the goal of achieving perfect seed placement to maximise seed-soil contact for even crop establishment.

John is the first grower in the Asia-Pacific region to be using Ag Leader’s individual row Hydraulic Down Force System and SureDrive™ electric drives, both released in late 2016. While currently available to New Zealand growers and contractors, it will be on display at field days in both the North and South Islands in 2017.

John farms with his wife Nicole and parents Rob and Barb on Queensland’s Darling Downs, near Toowoomba. They farm 800 hectares, cropping sorghum, mung beans and sunflowers in summer and wheat, barley, chickpeas, oats for cattle and occasionally canola in winter. Their annual rainfall is 640 millimetres.

The Pipers were originally using a Kinze double-disc planter, seeding eight 75-centimetre rows, which put them at a 6m width and fitted their 3-metre controlled traffic system. Last year, they upgraded to John Deere MaxEmerge™ planter units which enabled them to build a 12-row bar, still on 75cm row spacing, but increasing to a 9m system to improve efficiency.


At the time, the opportunity presented to try Ag Leader’s individual row Hydraulic Down Force System and SureDrive electric drives, so they jumped at the chance, replacing the down pressure springs and chain drives of their previous unit.

The Ag Leader Hydraulic Down Force System allows the Pipers to monitor and control planter down force on-the-go. It adjusts pressure instantly and automatically in changing soil types to ensure consistent planting depth, with a one-second response time to changing conditions.

The Pipers have Ag Leader’s InCommand™ 1200 display which enables them to see row-by-row detail. The individual row down force system is capable of regulating up to 36 individual sections, or rows – an increase from the previous 8 channel model.

SureDrive is a high torque electric drive which automatically adjusts meter speed on each row to keep consistent plant spacing around turns, contours and terraces. As per all of Ag Leader’s products, it is ‘colour-blind’ and able to be installed on most major planter brands on the market.

John says both products have handled his undulating country with ease, improving plant stands.

“A lot of our farms have undulating country so we are running up and down the slope and over the contour banks and we get big variations in soil type. At the top of the hill, it might be more gravelly but at the bottom, there is more heavy black clay,” John said.

“With such soil type variation, the hydraulic down force works well to adjust things on the go and it combines really well with the SureDrive electric drives.

“With wheel tracks, we always found the rows either side of the wheel tracks would have poor establishment, because you get a bow wave effect from the wheels. We’re able to monitor that with these new Ag Leader products and change them to match planting conditions from the rest of the machine.”


The first crop sown with the new system was sorghum in September 2016, with harvest due to start in February 2017. The Pipers use lower sowing rates on lighter soils, aiming for 45,000 seeds per hectare, but on heavier black soils, that is increased to 75,000 seeds/ha.

“With our undulating land, the springs were set for a ‘happy medium’ on the old planter and much of the time, it probably tended to have too much pressure which meant uneven plant stands. We thought we were getting good results but now we have a comparison and realise what is possible so we can do so much better,” he said.

“Also, with the cost of seed these days, you virtually want every seed to come up if you can.”

John says with their InCommand 1200 display showing the variations in pressure in real-time, they have noticed just how much variation there is and the changes between each unit.

“We had a 3ha piece where the hydraulic down force was not operating and you can see the difference plain as day in terms of crop establishment. There was nothing wrong with the unit, on that occasion it was operator error!” he jokes.

“With the Kinze we were using brush meters for sorghum but with the MaxEmerge we have gone to a vacuum planter. We are trying to improve our singulation as well for even spacing. It’s dropping a single seed every 10cm apart, getting that nice even spacing and not missing a seed.

“With many elements of grain growing outside our control, the research has shown that there are yield losses from uneven, poorly established crops so we feel this is one tool that is in our control to increase our chances of maximum yields and we’re happy with its performance so far.”

More information: John Piper, Toowoomba, 0428 753 315, or Doug Amos, Ag Leader Asia Pacific Sales Manager, and 0428 409 885.