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Air-Cup planters offer front-of-season savings and end-of-season premiums

by Darren Demers, Lockwood Equipment Specialist, North Valley Equipment, Grafton, ND

Considering a new or new-to-you potato planter? Here’s the pros and cons for the most common styles available today:

Pick Planters

The oldest form of potato planting technology is pick-based planting. Pick planters operate by stabbing potato seed and then dropping it into the trench. While spacing is based off the size of the pick wheel, at times, it may not be as accurate as newer styles of planters. The trick with pick planters is to be familiar with your equipment and regularly check spacing throughout the planting season to ensure your seed is spaced as uniformly as possible.

If using a pick planter, it is also important to be aware of any potential for transferring disease between seed pieces. Check your hopper regularly to catch any “bad” seed pieces that may be in the planter before they reach the pick wheel.

PROS: Time-tested and economical method of planting.
CONS: May require slower planting speeds and more periodic seed checks.

Belt Planters

Belt planters are a common version of planters seen in fields, utilizing a belt and cup system to place seed. Cup planters do not stab the seed like pick planters, but instead scoop each seed piece and rely on gravity to drop the seeds. Sometimes, the cups on belt planters grab multiple small seed pieces if the seed pieces are not ideally sized to the cups on the planter. This can potentially cause multiples or skips.

To help eliminate this problem, belt planter operators should move at a lower speed and consider the terrain changes of the field. Increasing speed causes higher centripetal force on the seed pieces. Remember, belt planters rely on gravity, so slower speeds over varying terrain can help minimize the potential for seed pieces to have compromised placement.

PROS: Seed pieces are scooped, eliminating contamination potential. Great for varieties with similarly sized seed lots.
CONS: May require slower planting speeds.

Air-Cup Planters

More and more producers are moving to air-cup planters. The technology of air-cup planters has significantly improved in the last handful of years. Air-cup planters operate similarly to a basic belt planter but use negative (vacuum) pressure to pick up and hold onto seed, and positive (air blast) pressure to release the seed into the furrow with precise placement.

This placement control allows a significantly faster planting speed (approximately 6mph versus a belt planter’s 2- or 2.5mph) as well as potential in variable rate applications. Air-cup planters are the most accurate potato seed planters on the market, offering high placement accuracy with virtually no multiples or skip plantings, even in variably-sized seed lots.

PROS: High seed placement accuracy, maximizing seed cost. Higher planting speeds.
CONS: Higher initial equipment investment (but a great return! Given the high cost of seed today, some growers I’ve talked to expect to return their air-cup planter investment difference within one year based on seed savings alone, to say nothing of the crop quality and uniformity gains they’ll also achieve.)

Source: Lockwood Manufacturing
Photo: Lockwood 608 S-Series cup planter
Video: Lockwood 606 Air Cup Testimonial | Jordan Reed, Columbia Basin, WA

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