Manfred Hellberg, a farmer from the Dundee region of KwaZulu-Natal and also the Müller Elektronik Agent for South Africa, has put the first electrically driven Monosem Planter in South Africa into the ground.

Manfred has successfully planted 80 hectares of dryland maize with the machine last December. With the support of Duncan Morphew the Area Manager of Monotec, the South African Monosem distributor, Manfred had fitted 24V “Nema 24” stepper motors with angle drive gearboxes onto the seed meter shafts of the new 4-row trailed Monosem No-Till planter that had the new 2016 NXM row units fitted. For the dry fertiliser, Manfred supplied, and Monotec fitted a 14 Amp KAG DC motor.  The same DC motor that often gets used on other planters or air-seeders fitted with a Müller system. While Müller Elektroniks in Germany wrote the custom software to drive this planter electronically, it was still necessary to use two ECU’s in order to control the seed and fertiliser shafts. In future, the new ECU’s supplied by Müller will be able to handle both functions in one ECU. The maize was planted with MAP (33) fertilizer according to the variable rate prescription maps supplied by Kynoch’s agronomist. The Müller system was also able to shut-off the rows when the planter overlapped any sections already planted using the automatic section control functionality in the Müller system. Since stepper motors run more optimally at 24V, it required the fitting of a 12 to 24V DC converter because the tractor only had a 12V power supply. In addition, two MRC modules from Müller needed to be fitted. The MRC module contains the electronics necessary to drive the stepper motors. Each MRC Module can control 2 rows including the seed sensors. Various models of seed sensors from Müller and Dickey John were tested during the trials.

Electric Drive, Nema 24 , KAG 14 , NX-M Row Unit

On the left: 24V “Nema 24” Steppermotor with angle drive gearboxes driving the seed meter of the 2016 NX-M Row Unit. On the right: KAG 14 Amp electric motor driving the dry fertiliser system.

Arend Langer from Carrotech / Monotec in Cape Town went up to the Natal Midlands for a planting of 4 hectares of Sugar Graze with the same electrically driven machine and interviewed Manfred on his farm afterwards:

Arend Langer :

Manfred, you used your new Brazilian made trailed No-Till planter for the previous season. What were the pleasant surprises when you used the Monosem No-Till planter ?

Manfred Hellberg :

The Monosem was planting how I wanted a planter to plant. The row spacing was perfect. The pips were all where they were supposed to be.

In addition, the Monosem row units seemed to be very sure footed on the ground, while my row units of the Brazilian planter were bouncing around. The Monosem row units were neither jumping nor in any way flexing sideways. It’s the first time I had such equal germination. I got the feeling that this Monosem Planter was able to maintain the correct depth much better than any other planter I had used in the past. That was a huge advantage.

AL : You were happy with the seed spacing and the seed singulation ?

MH : Yes, and the fact that the Monosem NX row-unit was much steadier than what I was used to, played a very big role during my No-Till planting operation.

AL : If you compare the Monosem metering unit to the one which you had in your Brazilian planter, some people say it “looks” the same or “is” the same, or “they copied the Monosem meter”. What are your remarks? :

MH : The Brazilian meter doesn’t seem to be finished as well. The basics seem the same, but the finer details are definitely not the same.

AL : What was the comparison of the seed spacing in the field ?

MH : There is no comparison. The Brazilian machine’s pip placement was all over the place and that was one of my big concerns. I bought that planter new so that everything would finally be going right ,but that Brazilian planter performed terribly. When I saw a Monosem planter at the Arlington Farmer’s Day in April 2015 being put into the ground, I dug up and saw that all the pips where at the correct spacing and I said to myself “This is how a planter is supposed to plant”

AL : What was better on the Brazilian Planter ?

MH : The Brazilian planter’s gauge wheels, being linked to the front, is definitely stronger. However, the advantage of the way that the Monosem’s gauge wheels are positioned, especially if it is set to touch against the row units double disc, is that you can plant in fairly wet conditions without any clogging up. With my previous planter I would have never been able to plant during the rainy days the way I had to planted with the Monosem planter this year. I planted after a 15 mm rain fall. When I got to the land I asked myself “What on earth are you trying to do today ?”.  Then I put the Monosem planter into the ground and it planted. I couldn’t believe it.

AL : How do you like the Monosem’s No-Till fertiliser trip-tine ?

MH : It works very well. I had to use the double disc option on my Brazilian planter last season because I knew my lands have lots of stones and their tine, being only shear-bolt protected wouldn’t have worked well. When that planter got commissioned, the guys that were supposed to help set up the machine struggled to set up the planter correctly with the tines and we had to change to the double disc option very quickly. We only used the tines for a couple of meters and could see it will make a mess. The double disc option worked better, but in some harder soils, the fertiliser placement was not as deep as I would have wanted it to be. Where the tine would have dug itself in, the double discs work shallower and shallower the harder the soil becomes.

The nice thing about the Monosem No-Till fertiliser trip-tine is that you can set the fertiliser tine to dig it’s trench off set with your seed drop. Maybe that is also why it looks to be so obvious that the Monosem’s seed placement is so much better than that from my one year old Brazilian No-Till planter.

AL : What can you say about the different fertiliser bins ?

MH : Even though that the Monosem bins are slightly smaller it is a great feature that the Monosem bins are a lot lower which makes it much easier to fill them. With my Brazilian planter I had to load the fertiliser bags onto a trailer and only from there I could fill them into the planter. It was also very top-heavy. You really had to be very careful and turn very slowly.

AL : What else do you reckon is worth mentioning ?

MH : The marker arms are much stronger on the Monosem than on my Brazilian machine. Besides that, let me tell you what else has happened : A farmer from the other side of Dundee had just bought a green American vacuum planter this season. When the new machine’s seed singulation wasn’t performing to their satisfaction they installed an aftermarket precision kit. To get the kit to work properly they had to increase the vacuum on their planter, but in certain cases when they had to stop in the field and their P.T.O. revolutions would just drop a little bit. All the pips would fall of the seed plates. He came to visit me with his son, to see the Monosem planter with the electric motors and so on. They weren’t here very long when the son remarked : “Dad look, the tractor is only idling and not one pip is falling off the Monosem seed plate. ” That is exactly what it’s like, planting with a Monosem. You don’t need high tractor revolutions while stopping or turning to hold the pips onto the seed plates.

AL : Did you need to stop at all during planting for issues like things coming lose or breaking or inconsistent seed placement or fertiliser distribution ?

MH : There was never, ever anything wrong on the fertiliser side of this Monosem planter with the Fertisystem augers, I can tell you that.

AL : What were the things that forced you to stop ?

MH : I bent two gauge wheel arms during an accident with a big rock. Then there was trash coming in and blocking and preventing the gauge wheels from turning. It stopped us completely until we straightened the gauge wheel arms again.

AL : How does the downtime of your Monosem compare to your Brazilian planter ?

MH : With the Brazilian planter we didn’t have downtime. We just didn’t have a good stand either. But you must keep one thing in mind. With the Brazilian planter it wasn’t me planting. The Müller software developed for the electric drive shows such details as population, singulation, doubles and skips. In the past I used a South African developed planter monitor which only alerted me if seed flow stopped. It was unable to tell me how bad the accuracy of the planting with my Brazilian planter was. With the additional information, the tractor operator can monitor planting accuracy from the drivers screen. With me doing most of the planting, I would stop and check if the singulation went below 95%.  If my tractor driver who did all my planting last year would have been the one planting with the Monosem using the South African developed planter monitor this year, he also wouldn’t have stopped for anything.

AL : Which one, in your opinion, is the stronger planter in your stony soils.

MH : That is difficult to say. We didn’t have time when we planted with the Brazilian planter. Having had the double discs and no trip-tines on, we didn’t try to rip up those large rocks with our Brazilian planter. We didn’t try to do it with the Monosem either, it just happened, and the Monosem could handle it.

AL : In other words, the Monosem has passed the test but you don’t know whether the Brazilian planter would have passed ?

MH : The Brazilian planter has failed to deliver proper seed spacing, and to me, that’s why you buy a new planter in the first place. In my opinion a new planter should deliver the correct seed spacing. That should be a given. All other things should be added to it like being nice and strong, being this and that. To me, you can’t have a planter that doesn’t put the pips down correctly.

The Brazilian machine at the time had cost me R360000 and the Monosem’s price at that time was R400000. Knowing what I know now, I would have paid the extra R 40000 and bought the Monosem in the first place.

The first electrically driven Monosem planter in South Africa.

The first electrically driven Monosem planter in South Africa.