Technologies Help Plant with Precision

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A generation removed from the farm likely wouldn’t recognize the sights and sounds of Illinois’ corn planting season: Beeps from one of five computer monitors in the tractor cab. The whizzing of a hydraulic-driven vacuum planter that sounds like an airplane before takeoff. No hands on the tractor steering wheel except to turn at the field’s ends. And the planter operates in the absence of a row marker, the steel “arm” that once reached out to etch a line in the soil for the tractor to follow the next pass.

Satellite-guided and sensor-controlled, the corn planter ranks as the most high-tech piece of equipment on our family farm. In fact, its modern-day capabilities make planting season the most crucial in our crop’s ability to reach its full potential.

Rewind this season a generation, and Dad remembers planting corn more simply: a busy time of year with no help from onboard computer screens. He remembers the requirement to steer the tractor on the straightaways, and he recalls the frequent stops to step from the tractor and check behind the planter, just to make sure it was doing its job. A screen shares that information now.

In our homes, technology has changed our methods and expectations of communication, shopping and even controlling the thermostat. Similarly, modern-day technology has revolutionized the way we plant.

Tractors drive themselves straight and hands-free with accuracy superior to car navigation systems. Automatic sensors adjust ground pressure per individual planter row to place seed at consistent depths in various soil conditions. Software prescriptions in our computer monitor vary the planter’s seeding rate with the guidance of global positioning satellite systems. Meanwhile, that same guidance signal pairs with automatic row shut-offs to prevent the overlapped planting of seed.

We possess the technology that makes us strive for and expect “ picket fence” corn: equal emergence and stands, or plants coming out of the ground at the same time, pace and distances.

Anything less results in a weed, or a weak corn plant that robs its thriving neighbor plants of water and nutrients. The reality seems harsh, but we farmers have little room for error in today’s environment of tight margins, trade wars that impact crop values, encroaching government policy, evolving weeds and diseases, and volatile weather.

Our farm family starts every planting season with high hopes for favorable weather and our best crop yet – no different from the generations before us. We just have the planter technology and the generational wealth of experience to improve our chances of the latter.

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