We’ve spent the past few weeks planting our corn crop. We finished just in time for the rain to come in. The rain was been a nice break for a couple reasons. First and most obvious, is that it’s great to get some rain on a freshly planted crop. Second, this allows us to make the transition from planting corn to planting soybeans. As soon as the ground dries up, we will start planting soybeans. Most of our ground is on a corn-soybean rotation which means one year corn will be planted, and the next year we’ll plant soybeans to that field. Ideally, we like to plant corn in April and soybeans in May. Usually we’ll harvest corn in September and soybeans in October.
This is our planter. It is a 24-row planter which simply means that we can plant 24 rows at a time. There’s 30 inches in between each row, so the planter is 60 feet wide (that’s 10 times wider than my car!). If you look closely, you can see “planter boxes” for each row. Seed is put into each box and it is planted into the row. Notice on the right and left of the planter there is a “marker” folded up over the planter boxes (thin green line with a tire on top).
Look on the left side of this picture, and you’ll see the “marker” unfolded and running across the ground. As you look at this picture we’re working from right to left across the field. The marker simply “marks” where to line up the tractor for the next pass.
We use “auto-steer” technology, so the markers aren’t as essential for us as they were at one time, but still helpful. Auto-steer is part of the GPS technology that we use, once it’s set up, in way oversimplified terms, a person really just has to be in the tractor cab to turn the machine around at each end of the field. We use GPS technology to keep the rows straight. Why is that important? Think of mowing your yard. Say you start to move over on one spot, if you continue to do that every time you go around suddenly you’ve got an area that you’re way over across the entire yard. This is the same concept across a field. However, we’re planting on that row then we’ll come back and spray and eventually harvest that same row. If we don’t start the field by planting straight we can have areas that we could completely miss or overlap. So we use the GPS technology to keep us in the same place each time. This way we can optimally apply inputs (seed, fertilizer, etc.) to get the best yield with the right amount of resources. The inputs that we use such as seed and fertilizer is very expensive so from an economic standpoint, we try to use exactly the right amount. This is why we’ve invested in this technology – we use the exact positioning that the GPS offers to get the inputs exactly where we want them. This is one way we try to manage our resources the best we can with technology. The auto-steer also frees up the farmer to pay close attention to the monitors and equipment.
As I said above, since we use the Auto Steer that will automatically line up the tractor and planter across the field, the markers aren’t as important as they were at one time, but they are helpful as soon as we turn around to immediately get lined up going the other direction. As you can see in this picture, there’s a darker line right in front of the center of the tractor. That darker line is the path that the marker made.