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Advanced Steering System Helps Farmer After Devastating Injury

It was an autumn day like any other for Trent Satterthwaite. The Chelsea, Michigan, farmer was unloading corn into his grain bin, a chore as routine as changing the oil in a tractor.

“As I went to pull samples to check the moisture, the pulley on the grain cleaner caught the hood of my sweatshirt,” he says. “I was able to pull myself loose, but the hood and left sleeve of my sweatshirt weren’t so lucky.”

Thinking he had escaped serious injury, Satterthwaite, who grows corn, soybeans, and wheat, went on with the rest of his day. “My arm hurt, but I thought it was no big deal,” he remembers.

As he hit the fields the following spring, the pain intensified. “The more I used my left arm, the sorer it got. Eventually, I couldn’t use it at all because it hurt so much,” he says.

That’s when he realized it was time to pay a visit to the doctor. Diagnosed with tendinitis, he was given a shot of novocaine and was sent on his way.

While the shot helped, the pain slowly returned. By late August, he knew what he was experiencing was more than tendinitis. When he sought the advice of a specialist, the true depth of the damage was revealed.

“The MRI showed I had a torn bicep that was holding on by a thread,” he says. “I had a labral tear, which is the muscle underneath the arm that is hooked to the ribs. It was completely torn off. I also had a torn rotator cuff.”

The specialist was amazed that Satterthwaite could move his injured arm at all. Ordered to stop using it immediately, Satterthwaite was scheduled for surgery in November to repair the damage.

“After surgery, I was told it was the worst shoulder injury the surgeon had ever repaired arthroscopically,” he says. “The prognosis, after about six months of physical therapy, was that I would regain around 60% to 80% use of my arm.”

Turning to Tech
Concerned he wouldn’t be able to maneuver his equipment the following season, Satterthwaite turned to his precision ag specialist to evaluate his options.

“Trent wanted a system that was more versatile than what he’d been using,” says Mike Mullins, PM Precision Planting Services. “We recommended Ag Leader’s OnTrac2+ system, which is a modular unit.”

The installation of permanent cabling and mounting plates in his planter, sprayer, and combine took away much of the physical burden from his recuperating shoulder.

“There were days I overdid it and was ready to let someone else steer,” he recalls. “There were a lot of days I probably wouldn’t have been able to plant if the system hadn’t been steering for me.”

Now, because Satterthwaite applies three fertilizers when planting corn with his six-row planter, he has seen benefits beyond the system’s agility.

“At the end of the field, I disconnect auto steer, turn around, and step on the button to reengage the system,” he says. “It is a pretty seamless system and has reduced the stress when I plant because I can pay attention to other areas.”

The Payoff
With a system costing between $8,500 and $12,000, depending on the type of signal used, the investment has paid dividends for Satterthwaite—and so did physical therapy. “By early May, I had regained 100% use of my left arm,” he says.

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