The Agronomists, Ep 17: Phil Needham and Peter Johnson on prepping the drill for seeding


Planters may get all the attention, but drills needs some love, too.

For this episode of The Agronomists, host Shaun Haney is joined by two powerhouses in the small grains realm — RealAgriculture’s own Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson, and drill expert Phil Needham of Needham Ag Technologies. Tune in below for an epic discussion on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about drill set up, maintenance, trouble-shooting and more.

The Agronomists runs every Monday evening at 8 pm E/6 pm M!


  • Down in Kentucky, it looks like spring
  • Planters get a lot of attention; in 1972, the Max Emerge corn planter was released, to this day there’s been minor improvements. We’re still using 1950s tech to put wheat seed in the ground
  • Singulation on air seeders has been in existence in Europe for at least six years
  • There’s more money available to European producers in relation to yields
  • Farmers need to start making noise to get some better technology
  • If a Kansas producer had a better drill, could they increase their yields by 20 per cent?
  • Singulation is important, most air seeders and drills are “controlled spilling machines”
  • Image: seeded with a single disc. “Well-sown is half grown” Placing good quality seed consistently at the right depth will help ensure yield potential
  • Stand count! Number of emerged plants per yard (foot, metre, whatever). Convert into square yards. Take into account highs, lows, and the variability. You can compare how different drills perform.
  • Image: seeded with a 4″ sweep. Plant architecture differences within the same row. Sweeps are soil moisture sensitive and that can cause a lot of depth variability.
  • Relative seedling emergence patterns (Gan et al, 1992).
  • Do the maintenance!
  • Clip 1: Wheat School: Seed drills, a comparison
  • Tillage coulters in mud, all bad. Soybean seeding research from Johnson and Horst Bohner
  • Coulters offer some leveling action for tracks, depending on region
  • Using a digital angle finder on a 3310 single disc Bourgault? Angle finder can be used to make sure the drill’s level front to back and side to side
  • Closing wheel based on soil type?
  • Disc drills. Can do a better job of a uniform stand
  • Hoe drills, gauge wheel in front and behind
  • Hairpinning seems to be worse in Western Canada
  • Research on ultra-early seeding from Brian Beres (2019). Knife opener did a better job
  • Clip 2: From Phil Needham’s library, residue concerns
  • Residue management starts the harvest prior!
  • Sell the harrow, buy a better chopper and spreader
  • Pete concurs
  • Is your header wider than your chopper can spread?
  • Improved row cleaning equipment coming down the line for a single disc opener drill?
  • Row unit that gives all the advantages of a corn/soybean row unit?
  • Clip 3: How does disc wheel diameter impact seeding?
  • Lesson of the day: keep those blades sharp
  • What is the best seeding speed for a single disc versus a hoe drill? Any hop in the single disc drill and you’re going too fast
  • Row spacing has a big impact on hoe drill speed. The narrower, the more soil disturbance
  • Broadcasting winter wheat?
  • Net return on precision upgrades on drills similar to row unit planters?
  • Precision planting wheat research: Wheat School: Assessing precision planting emergence
  • Will stripper headers solve a lot of residue management problems? There’s a learning curve, and again, they work in certain regions, but in general they would solve some management issues
  • Seed-soil contact, downforce, or singulation? Where can we improve the most? Pete says uniformity through downforce. Phil plays devil’s advocate: “What are the top two or three yield limiting factors?” Residue management. Downforce
  • What did they not talk about tonight? Tires on drills. Ballasting. Some other stuff.
  • Well, Pete opened up a can of worms by saying tire pressure, so away he goes.
  • Some of the bigger air carts these days weigh 39,000 to 40,000 lbs. Compaction is massive with the weight of these. Changing seed and fertilizer weight affecting the toolbar.

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The Agronomists (view all)Season 2 (2021) Episode 35

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