Anyone can get potatoes into the ground. If you want to maximize your time, land and in-put efficiency — and ultimately make more money — getting potatoes into the ground quickly and with accurate depth and spacing is critical. The technology that can make all of that happen is an air cup planter.
Air cup planters rely on negative (vacuum) pressure to pick up a single seed and positive (air blast) pressure to release that seed into a furrow at a precisely designated time. Around since the late 1980s, it’s not new or even particularly advanced technology, but it remains the best and most accurate potato seeding system available.
If a new or new-to-you seeder is in your future, here’s why now might be the time to consider air cup technology:
In order to achieve the premium offered from chippers and table potato buyers, producers need to deliver uniform tubers. A major step toward consistency at harvest is consistency at planting.
The cup on a belt planter regularly catches two potato seeds or, worse, misses all together, resulting in an uneven row. Add speed and planting consistency is further compromised; as the belt speeds up to compensate for increasing tractor speed, increased centripetal force means seed is thrown and rolled rather than accurately placed in the furrow.
An air cup planter’s vacuum-based capture and hold mechanism, on the other hand, rarely doubles seeds and almost never misses. Because it actively holds onto a seed potato until the air blast forces its release at a designated release point, compensating for speed simply requires calibrating the blast to occur a little earlier. As such, the system entirely negates centripetal force and achieves accurate planting at any speed.
Once a producer can achieve accurate seed placement at speed, the next critical priority is to manage input costs. An air cup planter’s fewer doubled seeds typically saves between one and two bags per acre in seed input over a belt seeder. At the same time, an airvcup planter’s far fewer skips mean less wasted land, fertilizer and other inputs, maximizing returns.
For those interested in precision farming, air cup planting has the technology that can accommodate variable rate planting and/or individual seeding row shut-off, a relatively new technology that maximizes efficiency when seeding into an irrigation circle.
Still, a surprisingly high number of producers haven’t upgraded: I’d estimate only about 30 per cent of all potatoes planted in North America are currently hitting the ground via an air cup a planter. While I’ve often heard growers ask if they can afford to buy an air cup seeder, I generally argue: can they afford not to? As land and input prices keep rising, achieving efficiency is what will keep producers in the potato growing game.