Farmer-born planter revolution
Published on March 13, 2023 at 1:16pm CDT
View From The Cab
By David Tollefson, Columnist
About a month ago, some of you readers may recall my mention of corn planters in the article about Ken Ferrie, noted agronomist in the corn belt of the U.S.
Ferrie talked about a guy named “Shorty” Olson, who had just bought a new corn planter, but Ferrie had urged him to buy a different planter. I’m quite sure the original drum planter was an IH model that Ferrie did not think planted the seeds accurately in the rows.
An article by Dave Mowitz in a recent Farm Journal article refers to the origin of the IH drum planter. Here it is:
Farmer influence has been felt in every area of machinery advancement over the years. That is especially the case with the Loesch brothers of Kimball, Minnesota. The Loesch brothers did more than influence machinery design. They invented a new approach to planting crops in the 1960s.
The farming brothers had toyed with an idea for a simplistic system that could accurately plant any crop, regardless of seed size without having to change distribution plates located at the bottom of each seed hopper on a row planter.
Furthermore, they envisioned all seed being held by a single hopper rather than the individual hoppers on each row unit.
Leon and Claude Loesch’s concept did more than simplify planter operation. Their air-assisted seed metering and distribution design revolutionized planting and put International Harvester at the forefront of planter sales.
The Loesch brothers’ unique approach to seed metering was to employ airflow to pressurize a steel drum that rotated on its axis. Seed would flow into that drum from a single center hopper.
Perforations were drilled along a line across the length of the drum at intervals corresponding to seed spacing in the furrow.
The air pressure in the drum would force seed into the perforations as it rotated. That seed was released at the top of the drum when rollers, positioned over the location of every hole, stopped airflow through the perforation. This caused the seed to drop onto air tubes leading to each row unit.
When Loesch’s design came to the attention of IHC engineers in 1968, they spared little time taking the concept to the prototype stage. In a rare display of corporate development, IHC acquired patent rights to the Loesch design in 1969, devised several key refinements within that same year, and built prototype planters for field tests by 1970.
Those tests were so successful that the company committed wholeheartedly to creating an entirely new row planter line that same year by finalizing its design and starting production on the planter.
Thus, the Cyclo planter was born. It was introduced to farmers and offered for sale in limited numbers by the spring of 1971.
The impact of the International 400 Cyclo planter was immediate. Sales outstripped demand, and the IHC planter facility in Canton, Illinois was running around the clock to keep up.
Today, every major planter on the market employs air pressure to some extent to assist in delivering seed to the ground. It’s all due to a concept born in the Loesch brothers’ farm shop.
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In my farming career, I’m totally amazed at all the changes just in the realm of planters and other seeding devices. I grew up with my dad planting with a 2-row planter that required a wire alongside to put usually four seeds in a bunch, with the wire having knots on it 40 inches apart, so that the corn could be cultivated the same way you planted, as well as cross-wise. That would have been something like 16,000 seeds per acre.
Nowadays twice that population, 32,000, would be the minimum farmers plant. And it would be in 30-inch rows (probably the most popular), while some plant in 20-inch rows, or 22-inch (which is the spacing for sugar beets) or even 40 or 44 inch rows, planted north and south, to get more sunlight between the rows to encourage cover crops planted at some point, to grow up and provide cover and grazing for cattle after harvest, and also the following spring before planting another crop of corn or soybeans or beets.
Back to the planters – for many years I planted in 38 inch rows, either with a four-row or 6-row planter. I had first a four-row, then later a 6-row, both John Deere planters, and of course cultivators of the same spacing.
About 1968 John Deere came with their “finger” planters to compete with the previously-mentioned IHC drum planters. That principle was a bit different, in that each row had a plastic box for the supply of seed corn or beans.
A circular row of maybe 20 little metal “fingers” operated on a cam principle as the unit rotated in the supply of seed, and theoretically picked up one kernel of seed and dropped it into the ground from maybe 15 inches above the ground. I believe that principle became more accurate from the standpoint of the individual plants of corn coming out of the ground and producing a nice cob of corn for harvest.
Finally, the above column mentions the idea of air on most planters today. I think that some use air pressure, while others maybe use vacuum, but the principle is the same-to singulate accurately so that the seeds all come up uniformly – the “picket fence” idea. But the principle of the Loesch’s is used to supply each row, no matter how many, from the central supply tanks in the middle of the planters via plastic hoses and air pressure.
The planter that plants my limited acres of corn is 24 row-has large tanks for seed so that many acres can be planted without stopping, and the depth of each seed is carefully regulated by down pressure, also hydraulically, and also the covering wheels to ensure good soil-to-seed contact even if conditions are dry after planting.
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Please contact David Tollefson with thoughts or comments on this or future columns at: firstname.lastname@example.org