seal  Purdue News

September 3, 2003

Purdue ag researchers count the ways new seed meters better

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Soybean drill planters aren't good with numbers, and that's a minus for no-till farmers.

Implements that drop a handful of seeds in one spot and a couple or none somewhere else add up to higher costs for producers. Recent belt metering technology tested by Purdue University researchers promises more uniform seed counts across fields. The technology will be discussed at Soybean Field Day.

The event takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday (9/9) at Purdue's Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE), located seven miles northwest of Purdue's West Lafayette, Ind., campus along U.S. Highway 52.

The field day is free and open to the public.

Inconsistent seeding rates have been a problem in no-till soybean production for years, said Stephen Hawkins, assistant director of Purdue Agricultural Centers. Hawkins and Dan Ess, Purdue Cooperative Extension Service agricultural engineer, will lead the educational session on belt meters.

"The old grain drills used a cast iron fluted feed system," Hawkins said. "It was a fairly good-sized pocket turned by the chain mechanism of the drill. It would pick up three, four, five soybeans and drop them in groups or clumps. Sometimes you'd get four, five, six beans – it wasn't always consistent."

Soybean drills used at five of the eight Purdue Agricultural Centers were retrofitted with belt meters three years ago, Hawkins said. The meters, manufactured by S.I. Distributing Inc. of St. Marys, Ohio, cost about $1,800 per drill.

A few year's worth of study indicates the belt meters are better at maintaining even seed counts, regardless of seed size. Ongoing research is testing belt meter efficiency at various tractor speeds.

"What we've found with these belt meters is that they singularize the seed," Hawkins said. "Also, there's a transmission on the devices for changing speed. You always have a consistent size seed opening. The fluted feed unit, on the other hand, moves from left to right and you have to increase or decrease the size of the pocket that the seeds drop into."

Initial research also shows belt meters cut waste and afford better planting management.

"At the Purdue farms we've been able to zero in on our plant populations a lot better than we have in the past," Hawkins said. "We were experiencing differences across the width of the drill of 45 percent, plus or minus, and now we're down around 5 percent to 8 percent.

"Belt meters give us a little more control on what we can plant, so we don't run out of seed on one side of the drill versus the other. At the end of the field we don't find ourselves looking for extra soybeans, or have extras to send back to the dealer. We can fairly well target what we want for each year, order that and plant."

So far, the belt meters are paying for themselves, Hawkins said.

"In terms of saving seed and dialing into the recommended plant population of about 165,000 standing plants per acre, we've been able to cut our seed costs by about $4 to $5 an acre," he said. "If somebody has never calibrated their drill, they could be spending even more than that per acre – in the $10 to $11 range – and wasting money."

Regardless of whether farmers use fluted feed or belt metering systems, they should perform routine maintenance on their drills and make sure the implements are set up for maximum efficiency.

"Whether you utilize the older system or the newer system, you've got to calibrate, calibrate, calibrate," Hawkins said. "Check out your seed size and spend a few minutes running some beans through the drill."

In addition to the belt meters session, Soybean Field Day features talks, plot tours and demonstrations on more than 20 soybean production topics.

For additional information about the event, contact Ellsworth Christmas, Purdue Extension soybean specialist, at (765) 494-6373,; or Jim Beaty, ACRE superintendent, at (765) 463-2632,

A Soybean Field Day brochure can be downloaded online.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415,

Source: Stephen Hawkins, (765) 494-8370,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education
Purdue Agricultural Centers

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page