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Soy Roy: Fieldwork weather has broken

The weather has finally given farmers here in eastern Nebraska a few days of warm weather, after a winter that produced more than 20 days of below zero chill. While the calendar turned from winter to spring two weeks back, temperatures in the teens had us thinking that spring might not come this year. The last two days have changed a lot of minds about the lack of warm weather.

The famous poet Tennyson once said “Spring is when young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of……”.   If I were to finish that profound statement I would conclude with “planting corn”. And it would not be just young man’s fancy but farmer’s fancy. Yesterday, I finished my pre-planting jobs around the farm consisting of cutting brush around the fields and road sides, tuning up the power equipment and smoothing out some rough patches caused by last fall’s dirt work.

Today, I will hook the tractor to the planter and begin the unpleasant job of converting from last year’s soybean planting configuration to this year’s task of planting corn. This will be the 22nd year for my old blue no-till planter. It has been a good and reliable machine. Because it has planted all of my acres no-till during that time, there is more than normal wear and tear on the coulters and disk openers. This requires due-diligence while inspecting parts that require replacement before the heavy lifting during the planting season. 

When I bought the planter in 1992 it had most of the bells and whistles available at that time. Most of the innovations were mechanical in nature. Such things as no-till coulters, row markers and liquid fertilizer applicators are relatively simple and at least easy to understand when they need maintenance. Such is not the case with new planters being put into use today. The sophistication of the planting equipment is enough to cause drive operators of my generation into retirement. I wonder if all of this technology is necessary!

My thoughts go back to a conversation I had with an executive from one of the major technology companies. His company is developing a planter controller with the ability to read yield potential from a soil map and adjust planting population and hybrid varieties accordingly. Their concept is that the maximum yield potential will be realized with the correct combination of inputs.

I was one the first farmers in my community to implement grid sampling and precision nutrient application. With 15 years of experience, my opinion is that the state of the art has not developed to the point where there is a perfect correlation between inputs and grain yield. A high correlation would be necessary for this technology to be economically viable. There are just too many variables. That being the case, it is difficult for me to comprehend what a difficult task it will be to maintain a planter in perfect working condition after it is no longer new. It will make today’s GPS and guidance systems look like child’s play.

I have not heard from my friend concerning the success of his company’s innovative planter control. It was supposedly tested on farms in 2013. I will certainly be interested in learning if I am right in my negative assessment or if it will be a big hit as no-till coulters were in the 1970’s . Stay tuned ! 

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