Searching for ways to further cut input costs and improve yields, several Greenwood, Miss.-area farmers are evaluating precision planting of corn, soybeans, and cotton, using an 8-row, twin-row planter.

The crops are planted in twin rows with a staggered seed drop, which research indicates allows more growing room for plants and a better canopy than standard rows.

Plants and their roots can spread over a larger area, allowing plants to catch more sunlight and gain better access to nutrients, with fewer diseases, all resulting in healthier, more uniform crops and improved yields.

“I'm always looking for a better way to get maximum yield with reduced inputs,” says Bo Prestidge, one of the growers who used the Monosem twin-row planter for 400 acres of his 1,800 acres of soybeans.

“This planter is so precise, you could space seed 2.7 inches apart — or any other spacing you want. With it, we planted 36 pounds of soybean seed per acre, compared to 50 pounds conventionally or 60-70 pounds for narrow row. The twin row planting will allow us to direct-spray less area, reducing chemical costs by as much as one-third. And we can irrigate more uniformly, with an all-around better growing environment.

“With the precise, staggered twin rows, every plant can develop to its maximum potential,” Prestidge says. “Sometimes, with conventional or drilled beans, the plants end up competing against each other. Those fields may look prettier — but it's the bottom line that counts.

“With the higher costs for Roundup Ready technology, additional chemical costs, etc., we have to constantly look for ways to save money. With Roundup Ready soybean seed at $27 for 50 pounds, if I can cut my seeding rate to 35 pounds, as opposed to 50 pounds, that's a substantial savings — particularly if I can get the same or higher yields. Even with conventional seed at $16, by the time you multiply it across hundreds of acres, there's potential for significant cost cuts by going to a lower, more precise seeding rate.”

Jay Rose, sales representative for Johnson Implement Co., Greenwood, Miss., said his company started handling Monosem's standard planters four years ago and a number of growers in the Delta are using them. But nobody was using the twin-row model, and “we wanted to get one and make it available for growers so they could see what it does and make comparisons in their own fields.”

He said the company is renting the planter to growers this year, but “we'll probably buy it so we can continue to offer it next season.” He expects that 1,000 acres-plus of corn, soybeans, and cotton will be planted with it this season. One farmer has indicated using it to plant some milo.

“The planter is extremely precise,” Rose says. “There's just nothing else like it out there. You pick the spacing you want, and it'll put every seed at that exact spacing, regardless of seed size.” He says the planter is widely used in vegetable crops, where seed are very expensive and precision planting is needed to get maximum returns. It is adaptable to narrow row, ultra-narrow-row, twin rows, wide rows, flat surfaces, and beds.

Prestidge, who farms “all over Leflore County (Miss.)” and was named Mississippi's Soybean Farmer of the Year for 2002, also has 1,000 acres of rice, leases out 500 acres of cotton land and 500 acres of catfish ponds, and owns and manages Wildlife, Inc., a duck/deer hunting operation on some 40,000 acres that he leases from surrounding farmers.

“We farmers too often tend to be set in our ways,” he says. “What has worked for us over the years, we tend to keep on doing. But today, anyone who's not willing to try new technologies and methods is standing still — or falling behind.

“We'd been looking at the potential in twin-row planting for several years,” he says, “but no farmer is going to invest that kind of money in a piece of equipment without knowing what it can do for him. When Jay and Johnson Implement made this planter available, we were anxious to try it out.

“We'll compare costs and yields for the twin-row beans against conventional and drilled beans, and then we may move into it in a bigger way next year.”

Harry Roland is another grower who used the planter on 30 acres of his 250 acres of corn. For comparison purposes, he planted 16 rows with conventional spacing in the same field as the twin-row. He'll also compare the twin-row, which will be furrow-irrigated, to dryland corn.

“Our usual seeding rate is 33,000 plants per acre,” he says. “With the twin-row planter, we dropped to 28,000, based on research I'd seen out of Missouri, where they consistently get better yields with lower rates.”

In the early 1970s, Roland says, he used a Burch peanut planter that offered more-precise planting than conventional planters available then. “We used it for planting soybeans, but it was nowhere near as accurate as the Monosem twin-row planter.”

Both Roland, who has 750 acres of soybeans in addition to his corn, and Prestidge “are very forward-thinking farmers, who are interested in research and new methods and technology,” Rose says. “We're looking forward to their after-harvest evaluations of how the twin-row crops stack up against their conventional crops.”