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From a distance, the Kinze planter looked no different from any others as it chattered across a field Feb. 21 in Moody, Texas. But "under the hood," this Kinze planter had two seed meters for each row and was placing two hybrids in different areas of the field, depending on what a predetermined digital map dictated.
Welcome to the world of concept multi-hybrid planters. This one, which was on its inaugural public run, was the result of a collaboration of Beck's Hybrid's, Kinze Manufacturing and Raven Industries.
The stars seem to be aligning for multi-hybrid planting technology, which promises a bump in yields along with a reduction in seed costs. Electric drives, improved yield maps and specialized hybrids and varieties have made the concept possible.
Both Kinze and Precision Planting announced at the winter farm shows that they have been working on planting systems that can plant two hybrids in the same field pass, putting Hybrid A in one area and Hybrid B in another. The idea would be to use a racehorse variety in the high-producing areas of a field and another -- less expensive -- hybrid in areas with less yield potential. Yield history and agronomic data could help select hybrids that would actually do better in low-yielding areas.
The planter systems would work for corn hybrids as well as soybean varieties.
"Until now, they [growers] had to kind of take an average and use a hybrid that worked kind of OK for most of that field," said Luc van Herle, global director of sales and service for Kinze. "By having a planter that plants two hybrids, you now don't have to choose one hybrid; you can choose two."
That can be especially advantageous to growers with lots of field variation.
The multi-hybrid concept can pay benefits even if a grower does not know why some areas of his field produce less. All he has to know is that planting an expensive hybrid in a weak area is not going to produce big yields or pay dividends. He could choose almost any less expensive hybrid for those areas and come out ahead. But if he does isolate factors causing low yield and finds a hybrid that produces well in those conditions, he gets a double bonus.
Seed companies have long tweaked their products to make the most of problem conditions. By now their catalogues are so extensive they can match specific hybrids to many specific soil conditions and expect to improve yields.
For multiple hybrids to work best, "you have to have an in depth knowledge of genetics and where hybrids perform best," said Douglas Prairie, Raven product manager for applied technology.
His company started working on a multi-hybrid planter in 2012 when South Dakota State University Extension asked for help with a test plot project to investigate -- among other things -- multi-hybrid plantings. Prairie and other Raven engineers decided the concept had merit and dove in. By 2013, they had produced a concept multi-hybrid planter that they displayed at fall farm shows.
Raven during the same time period teamed with Kinze to provide software and support for a concept planter that will hit the fields this spring for testing. "It's just a dream to have it happen so fast. It's nice to see them [Kinze] being so aggressive with the hardware," Prairie said.
Beck's Hybrids provided research and the agronomic underpinnings for Raven's and Kinze's multi-hybrid work.