With corn planting down to just days to go, but with the weather not cooperating, it puts us in the position of hurry up and wait. Things are in place starting with tillage and fertilizer. Equipment along with supplies of diesel fuel and fertilizer wait for the first break in the weather allowing the right conditions when everyone will have the same thing on their mind, namely, covering every acre as quickly possible while still doing a good job.
With the very cold temperatures and forecast of snow for the second week of April, it makes this year unique but every year is unique. Any year can be described as too wet, too cold, or too dry. But every year the seed got in the ground and every year we had a harvest of some kind.
It is times like this I remember planting seasons of years past. Twenty years ago, we tried to be under way by the first week of May and done by the third week if everything went right. That was just the corn. Soybeans were planted next. Twenty years ago, we devoted the month of May to getting our seed in the ground.
Today we try to be underway by the third week of April and some are planting the second week if possible. In 20 years, we have moved planting up by three weeks. Back then, we thought anyone planting the last week of April was rushing the season and today we try to be close to finishing on the last days of April. Improved genetics and large equipment that can cover the ground quickly have reduced most of the risk and we have built in larger yields as part of our income so earlier planting is necessary.
There has been a trade-off of putting in longer hours to cover the bigger farms while the large equipment and bulk seed has lessened the physical work. A favorite memory of mine is that my neighbor told me back in the '50s they planted a 90-acre field in one day with a two-row planter. They started as soon as they could see the planter mark and drove all day only stopping to fill the planter. It was a very long day.
On the other hand, during that same time, my dad probably did not start corn planting until mid-May and usually finished during the first week of June. He had livestock chores to do every morning so planting did not start until mid-morning and would end late afternoon when he had evening chores to do yet. He was a modern farmer with a four-row planter. Six-row planters were just being talked about along with some new idea called narrow rows.
Now a 16-row planter is starting to look small and fields of 100 acres and up are about the right size for today's equipment. That is just as of today. The future says equipment and fields will get even bigger. Is there a place where it will end? I have no idea but we are not close yet.
It seems like today, satellite-guided steering is about the same place narrow rows were back in the 1950s. Once satellite guided steering is common, the next step will be to eliminate the operator altogether. Is it possible fields of the future will be planted and then harvested by machinery controlled from a remote location? I would suggest the remote location could be the lobby of the bank so a farmer can figure out how to pay for it. With satellites guiding the equipment and computers controlling everything, who needs farmers?