It’s no coincidence that Scale-Tec’s motto is “Accuracy Powers Profitability.” According to Nick Von Muenster, President of Scale-Tec, having a scale on a planter, drill or seed tender can indeed reduce financial loss in seed and productivity. In fact, some producers claim they’ve paid for their scale system on seed savings alone.
However, it’s not just the savings in seed cost that matters. The adage “Time is money” is certainly true in farming, and lost time can be costly if planting ends up being delayed by days or weeks or if that time can be better used somewhere else.
Consider these four ways a scale system can actually save you money at planting and at harvest.
1. Avoid overseeding and underseeding.
It’s pretty simple–planting too many seeds per acre means overspending on seed, which translates into unnecessary expense. On the other hand, underseeding means lost yield potential. Yet, both can be avoided with the use of a scale system on the drill, air seeder or planter, Von Muenster says.
“If you have a scale on your drill or air seeder, you can stop at any point in the field and compare it to your seed prescription and the amount of acreage you’ve covered to that point,” he explains. “In essence, you’re able to verify the correct seeding rate or dial in the seed meter much more quickly and accurately than you can using traditional methods.”
Zach Ryder, a farmer-dealer from Cascade, Iowa, agrees. “If you are metering out product onto a field and you find that you’re putting out one or two pounds too much over a thousand acres, you are going to pay for that scale right away,” he says.
Von Muenster says overseeding involves more than just the cost of the seed, though. In some crops and situations, overseeding, and the crowding that results, can lead to lodging or vegetative growth instead of seed development. These days most commercial seed is also coated with an inoculant, which costs money, too. “That all adds up,” Von Muenster says, “so not being able to plant the correct rate, or not being able to adjust it quick enough, can be quite costly.”
2. Turn time into profit.
Using a scale system to load a planter or drill when seeding a crop provides more accuracy and frees up time for other important work. Whether it’s doing a better job of marketing or avoiding weather delays that can result in lost yields, the time saved by a scale system holds an untold potential for profit.
Consider, for example, how much precious time can be lost when trying to get an equal amount of seed in each side of a twin hopper or each box on a planter or seeder without the aid of a scale. Even more time can be lost if you have to keep stopping to check the seed level, run out of seed before you’re finished or have too much left at the end of the field when it’s time to change varieties. Fortunately, a scale system can eliminate all of those issues by weighing the amount of seed going into each box or hopper and/or showing how much seed is left in each hopper at any given point.
The problem with not knowing how much seed is left in the seed hopper, Ryder says, is that inaccuracy wastes time. He insists that time is particularly precious at planting. “In the spring of the year, a few hours can make the difference between getting the crop in before it starts raining or having it sit there for two weeks,” he says.
According to one multiple-year study in Indiana, estimated yield loss per day due to delayed planting varies from about 0.3% per day in early May to about 1% per day by the end of May. The study showed that yield potential generally goes down with delayed planting due to a number of factors, including a shorter growing season, greater insect and disease pressure, and higher risk of hot, dry conditions during pollination.
3. Avoid wasted cover crop seed.
With cover crop seed costing anywhere from around $1 per pound to nearly $4 per pound for a 12-seed blend, you can’t afford to waste it while dialing in the seed meter. Yet, that’s what happens when you’re trying to calibrate the drill without a scale system. It’s particularly true when planting a cover crop blend that consists of several different species. After all, the bag may call for planting 15 to 20 pounds per acre, but ryegrass, peas, lentils and clover all differ dramatically in seed size. Hence, it’s difficult to know where to initially set the seed meter without a great deal of trial and error—and potentially wasted seed. However, if the drill is equipped with a scale system, it’s simply a matter of planting an acre or two, checking the scale monitor for the weight planted and adjusting the meter for the prescribed 15 to 20 pounds per acre.
Most agronomists agree that one starting point is to use the setting recommended for the most prominent species in the mix. For example, if the most prominent species is cereal rye, you would follow the recommendations specified on the drill or in the operator’s manual and adjust the meter for rye. Still, without a scale to calculate the seed weight planted in a given number of acres, it will take some adjustment and seed waste to obtain the recommended seeding rate for the entire blend.
4. Make the best use of adapted varieties.
We all know that certain corn hybrids and crop varieties perform better on certain types of soil and can result in higher yields and greater profit. But without a scale system on the planter or seed tender, it can be time-consuming to plant separate varieties in different areas of the field or different small fields.
“Let’s say I have a certain hybrid that I want to plant in three different fields,” Von Muenster explains. “I could fill the planter three different times and plant the three different fields, or I could use a scale to fill it once with the correct amount of that hybrid for the total acreage and use the scale and the GPS monitor to plant all three fields at the same time.”