Precision ag tools including guidance, section control and rate control may be the biggest change in today's planter tractors, like these controls seen in ACGO's Challenger 1038.


Increasing demands for power, precision, handling and efficiency shaped the evolution of the modern planter tractor and continues to steer the development of these trusted machines.

“Planter tractors came a long ways in the last 10 years, and we’re definitely not slowing down,” said Kevin Jones, AGCO strategic marketing manager for high horsepower tractors. “The largest change has come down to horsepower.”

Larger, high speed planters have required a steady increase in power to weight ratios. That means design starts with keeping the tractor light.

Other priorities like visibility and a superior ride remain crucial, but tractor manufacturers have had to package these features into higher horsepower machines, Jones said.

Larger planters also require greater hydraulic capabilities.

AGCO row-crop tractors utilize two hydraulic pumps running on two circuits: One can provide high pressure and low flow for operations like lifting the planter markers, or for hydraulic downforce, another can supply low pressure and high flow for running hydraulic motors efficiently.

Today’s planter tractors have been geared to provide more horsepower at lower RPMs, improving fuel efficiency and providing necessary hydraulic flow without sacrificing on draft power.

“It’s a really big change for the industry,” Jones said. In addition to saving fuel, the “low engine speed concept” also reduces wear on the engine and drivetrain.

Having both power and efficiency isn’t all that’s required, though. Farmers can’t plant at high speeds, if they can’t stay in the seat.

Jerry Griffith, John Deere product marketing manager, said independent link suspension has been another major development relating to tractor performance and efficiency.

Improved suspension not only allows operators to feel comfortable operating at speeds as high as 10 miles per hour, it also optimizes the transfer of power to the ground, he said.

Modern low-pressure tires that improve traction and reduce compaction further improve the efficient transfer of power from the engine to the ground.

Moreover, continuously variable transmissions allow operators to plant at a set speed, while the tractor seamlessly shifts gears.

Of course, precision ag tools including guidance, section control and rate control may be the biggest change in today’s planter tractors.

These features come as options right out of the factory today and customers can choose which guidance system is right for their operation. AGCO strives to be an “open partner” with different technology systems across the industry, Jones said.

“Our tractors have to be capable of bringing in all this information and being able to control implements and be able to act on these prescriptions,” he said.

In addition to providing more data and saving on seed cost, there are agronomic benefits as well from precision technology. Properly equipped tractors and planters with electric drive row units like John Deere’s Exact

Emerge planters can shut off individual row units on turns to avoid double planting and optimize plant spacing.

“Electrification is becoming more and more present as time moves on,” Griffith said.

Today’s John Deere row-crop tractors can operate PTO-driven electric generators to meet electricity needs, he said.

Electric generators as well as guidance systems, including the latest RTK systems with sub-meter accuracy, are also popular as retrofits for late model tractors, he said.

Last but not least, the modern planter tractor is designed for comfort to reduce stress on the operator.

“It wears on you over time,” Griffith said.

Jones said hearing from customers that they are able to cover more acres in a day and see agronomic benefits from modern planter tractors is “very satisfying from our part.”

Bill Tiedje is staff editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.


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