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Spring planting gets rolling

Quick planting tech

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Mother Nature's been a lot kinder to central Illinois farmers this spring so far than she was the last 2 years. April saw huge planting strides in the area, allowing farmers to put a lot of new technology to work as they got their 2010 crops in the ground.

'New concept, but old common sense'

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Dave Mowers, certified crop adviser (CCA) and owner of Raemow, Inc., in Toulon, Illinois, says seed is the key variable for his farmers this year. With seed costs climbing, he says variable-rate planting and tools like automatic row shutoffs are key this year. "A lot of seed is starting at $400 per bag. That's half a cent per kernel," he says. "The cost has to be balanced out, so that's where variable planting populations are coming in."

Supplementing existing nutrients

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Mowers is working with farmers this year to establish better guidelines for nutrient applications and management in their soils. He's using site-specific soil testing to track nutrients already present in the soil, how much that soil makes available to plants and how much needs to be applied to supplement the nutrients already in the ground. "We can use science to predict those areas and make it so we won't have to sacrifice yield, yet increase the efficiency of the products we'll be applying," he says. 

A lot to do and not much time to do it

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Doug Martin had a busy April. In addition to get all his acres planted on his Mt. Pulaski, Illinois, farm, he had to take care of all the tillage and fieldwork he wasn't able to complete last fall. But, by the end of the first week of May, Martin was able to finish planting corn and soybeans. "Ss of today we are totally done with corn and soybean planting...earliest ever," Martin said Thursday. "Now we need good emergence."

Satellite guidance

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This year, Martin employed Deere's iGuide system on his planter. Using the same receiver he uses for anhydrous applications and strip tillage, he's able to keep all of his equipment aligned in one system in the field. "It helps keep our guess rows at 30 inches when we're putting our anhydrous on because we're planting with a 24-row planter with a 16-row strip-till bar," he says. 

Getting through wet soils

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Though this spring has been mostly dry for Martin, strip tillage has performed well in the last 2 years when excess moisture has been a problem. It does require a few additions to the planter. But, it all helps seed emergence. "Spiked-toothed closing wheels break up soil on top of the ground, allows it to dry out and eliminates forming a hard crust," he says. "The drag chain comes behind that and throws some dirt on top of that. In any kind of wetter conditions, those things have really allowed us to have much better emergence with our seed."

A total package

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Martin keeps up with the latest technology tools for all his farm's field operations. Between RTK, autosteer, satellite guidance and the latest stacked corn hybrids, he says he's noticed big improvements, both in field conditions and on his balance sheet. "It all really has given us a different attitude with farming," he says. "It allows us to be more efficient and be more aware of the problems we have to deal with out there. It makes us a more efficient, better operation."

Hydraulic controls

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Randy Schertz also uses satellite guidance on his farm near Eureka, Illinois. When it comes to his variable-rate planting, it's more the good ol' fashioned iron that makes it work. "Before, our seeding was tire-driven, and this type of nitrogen management and differing seed populations would have been impossible to do," he says. "But now with hydraulic drives -- and the computer telling the system what to do -- you can do many different things." 

Intensive nutrient testing

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Schertz used to sample nutrients in 2-acre grids. But, since he's brought along variable-rate application capabilities, he's intensified his grid sampling to every 3/5 of an acre. He says it's helped him cut costs and improve yields. "It gives us a better idea of how our soils are working," he says. "Then, with GPS technology, we can come in and apply fertilizer in varying rates, reducing costs and hopefully improving yields." 

A decked-out new rig

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Terry Bogner was just getting ready to roll out his new planter in mid-April. He added a lot of new tech tools to his no-till planter, and was eager to get started. "I'm learning the technology, how to operate it and all its capabilities," he says. "You learn by experience. I guess you don't appreciate its value until you use it." 

Hands off!

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One of the new tools on Bogner's new planter is a chemical application system that eliminates the need to handle the chemical directly. Chemical syrup "packets" are inserted into the yellow box on the back of the seed hopper. "The concept is through the forced chemical insecticide would come in packages and slide in these compartments and it will be hooked up to these hoses, so you never touch the insecticide itself," he says. 

Pump it out

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The chemical "syrup" is then mixed with water and pumped through the hydraulically controlled system. "It's calibrated and metered out through this chemical pump, then mixed with water," Bogner says. "It's extremely accurate regardless of your speed, from 4 to 7 miles per hour. And, it's extremely efficient, only using 2 gallons per acre of water." 

Get the wheels turning

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Bogner's also experimenting with 2 different types of newer closing wheels on his planter this year. One employs more curved, spiked spokes that have a flat edge that helps break down the sidewall while planting. The other wheel has small spokes and a more square edge. While effective in no-till systems, Bogner's still got concerns with both designs. "We're a little concerned with one that might want to pack a little too much," he says. "The other wanted to fill up with mud and dirt." 

Independent row cleaners

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Another addition Bogner's made to his planter is a new system of row cleaners from Dawn Equipment Company. Instead of on the row units themselves, they're mounted to the parallel arms, making them run independently and taking stress off the row units, making them run more smoothly through the field. "They're hydraulically controlled and you can control the down-pressure from the cab," Bogner says. "The real advantage is if you stop in a heavy patch of residue, these will drop down instantaneously and automatically clean that path away."

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