How American farmers plant 30% more acres

The peak crop-planting season is under way in the United States, and farmers have found a technologically advanced way to plant 30% more acres per hour or per day.

That gives them a better chance of avoiding planting delays due to bad weather, and the crops can go in early to take full advantage of a long growing season.

In the spring, farmers in the US plant about 90 million acres each of maize and soybean, and about 12m acres of spring wheat.

It’s a race against time and the weather, but the 360 Yield Center in Illinois has developed the Sprint ‘refuelling’ system to re-supply liquid nitrogen to planters on-the-go in the field.

It’s similar in many ways to the aerial refuelling developed for military aircraft, also known as in-flight refueling, for transferring aviation fuel from a tanker aircraft to a receiver aircraft during flight.

The 360 Yield Center modified a utility vehicle with an innovative docking system to lock onto the crop planter and transfer up to 300 gallons of liquid nitrogen to the planter or to tanks on the tractor pulling the planter.

The utility vehicle is modified with a tandem axle and frame support structure to support the tank carrying 1.5 tonnes of liquid nitrogen onto the field. The utility vehicle driver guides his vehicle into place behind the planter, and engage a latching system with a coupler on the planter, which ensures a tight seal connection. A fast pump on the utility vehicle is then activated, to transfer 300 gallons of liquid nitrogen fertiliser in less than four minutes.

As the tractor and planter continue on their way during this manoeuvre, a spring-loaded receiving cone and the transfer boom are designed to allow the system flex over uneven terrain, and to maintain a tight seal for drip-free transfer of the starter liquid nitrogen fertiliser to a planter on-the-go.

This eliminates the travel time of the planter back and forth to a nitrogen tender tank, and the fill time at the tank.

As well as keeping productivity high by increasing the planting rate by 30% per hour, this ‘just-in-time’ liquid delivery minimises planter-tractor weight. Keeping down the weight decreases damaging soil compaction.

There is a major weight difference between a planter-tractor combination which starts off with a maximum load of liquid nitrogen, and a combination which is regularly refuelled on-the-go with the 360 Sprint system.

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