It was just before 9 a.m. in Louisville, Ky.
People milling about at a trade show gathered around one man with a microphone. He stood in front of a tall green curtain -- obscuring a few square feet of “a true game-changer.”
The crowd had to wait until exactly 9 o’clock -- since the big reveal would be live-streamed around the country.
“This is a momentous occasion for John Deere,” said Barry Nelson, a spokesperson for the American agricultural equipment maker, at the National Farm Machinery Show on Wednesday.
“We’re honestly introducing a revolutionary new product.”
At the appointed time, the curtain came up and music echoed through the exhibition center as the audience got their first look at the ExactEmerge planter -- a looming planting machine that farmers drive across their fields like a giant claw, at the same time digging trenches and dropping seeds. At first glance it looks like others that have been on the market for years, except for one thing. A banner stretching across the top reads “Accurate at 10mph. Exactly.”
The new speed limit is exactly what all the fuss is about.
Most planters of this kind can travel as fast as 5 miles per hour while still managing to get the seeds into the ground correctly -- moving any faster will send valuable corn and soybean seeds flying off to the side, missing their mark.
It’s been in the works at Deere for years, and the machine was pilot tested over a few seasons in farmers’ fields around the Midwest.
“The first day we go to the field, the guys from John Deere say ‘drive it like you stole it,’” said Greg Smith of Cimmings, Kansas, one of first to test the system, to Agriculture.com.
“The spacing and depth is exact,” he said, adding that every ear of corn he planted grew in uniform and were exactly the same length -- a huge benefit.
Ordinary planters use a “seed tube” system, where seeds are taken from their container and dropped to the ground through a tube. But they tend to gain momentum as they fall, which can cause them to bounce around when they hit the ground. Then, the corn or soybean plants could grow unevenly, which makes harvesting more difficult.
The new Deere machine uses a “brush belt” that essentially picks up every seed and places it exactly on the ground with a minimal amount of bounce, making placement more accurate. It was designed for farmers working within increasingly tight planting windows, and is reportedly the only one on the market that can go this fast.
Perhaps Deere is hoping to appeal to farmers looking for more efficiency during a tough 2014.
The company forecast a 5 to 10 percent drop in sales this year, as farm incomes are also projected to decrease.