Planting: Age-Old Process…Changing as Quick as the Weather!

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 by Scott

‘Tis the season…to plant! With weather as hot as we experienced recently (before this crazy cold snap), the ground was able to dry up enough for farmers to get on it with their planting equipment!

We chose to start by planting a mixed grains and grass crop for a neighbor dairy farmer, using our new bean/grain drill (planter). While I’ve seen this planter in action before, I had never seen such an interesting mixed crop grown by a farmer.

A lot of farmers grow single crops in each field, but there is some benefit to be had by planting many all together, and using it as a mixed feed source for livestock like this particular farmers’ dairy cows. His mix consisted of several grain crops: barley, wheat, etc; a couple of grasses: including alfalfa; and finally a pulse crop: peas.

By planting multiple crops together (which all provide different nutrients), the cows can get a balanced and healthy supply of vitamins and nutrients all in one serving. For example: the grain crop wheat provides a superior source of protein and a faster rate of starch digestion in livestock; the grass alfalfa is high in vitamins A, B, C, E, and K; and finally the pulse peas provide a concentrated amount of both protein and energy.

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Bean-Drill-and-Tractor-Whole.jpg                                                                    b2ap3_thumbnail_Bean-Drill-Whole.jpg
                             b2ap3_thumbnail_Grain-Hopper-on-Drill.jpg                                                                                                                            b2ap3_thumbnail_Dairy-Farmer-Mix.jpg

Second planting duties kicked off with planting corn on our home farm. I got some practice planting here with our new planter that is equipped with some technology that is brand new to me! This includes GPS and auto steer. I knew virtually nothing about them, but after a weekend of planting with my dad, they became quite simple and made all the work we do much more efficient!

What are these technologies you may ask? Well, GPS is similar to what everyone would recognize in their car, but with some modifications. By linking to a satellite, the GPS records all of the places seed is planted in the ground. By planting around the outside of the field, it creates a digital image of the shape of the entire field. After planting up the field once, it is able to tell the auto steer function where the tractor and planter need to be in order to space the seeds evenly on every pass a planter makes…up, down, up, down…up and down the field. When half way through turning the tractor around to go down to the other end of the field, I activate the “auto steer” and the GPS directs it, turning the wheels, lining it up!
While many people, including my dad, say things like “GPS and auto-steer take the farming out of farming”, just a weekend of this made me realize that’s not quite it. Do they make planting easier? Yes! Tons! But keep in mind…it’s taking the easiest part of planting (driving relatively straight in line with what you’ve already planted), and eliminates human error. This means that all of the land used to plant crops is used as efficiently as possible! Even with this to make planting easier, the farmer is still needed to monitor different processes (seed, fertilizer, air pressure, fuel etc levels) and to perform some manual tasks, that are also some of the most demanding, such as lifting and dropping the planter down at the right time, turning the whole rig around, changing the fertilizer, fuel, and seed bags, which vary but are typically in the ballpark of 60 pounds.?

Overall, what this weekend taught me is the new role technology has is in agriculture. It does not replace the farmer, but just helps them do a more efficient job. While learning how to use these, it actually got me excited to be able to use these on my farm. Surprisingly enough, this level of control even urged my dad to tell me he wants to do a better job of keeping records of what we grow and how we grow it, so that we can continually improve our practices!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Corn-Planter.jpg                                                                       b2ap3_thumbnail_GPS-Display.jpgj

Our 12 Row Corn Planter                                                                                                                                              Our GPS. Green = Planted; Light Brown = Unplanted; Purple = Drive Lines