Technology has dramatically changed the planting season for farmers

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According to the last Farm and Dairy, 79 percent of Ohio’s corn is planted, way ahead of last year (Marlin Clark said that last year only 2 percent of corn was in the ground).

Earlier planting

When I was a kid, I don’t think we even began planting until near the end of May. Of course, we had to first plow all that ground, then disc it a couple of times, and finally harrow it with a spike tooth before the soil was considered fit to plant corn.

With a 2-bottom plow, 7-foot double disc, and a 3-section spike tooth, soil preparation took a while. Then our old No. 919 John Deere, 2-row, horse-drawn corn planter didn’t put the seed in the ground very swiftly, either. We were often planting corn afterEven rows? school was out for the year, which was usually around Memorial Day.

The only way we had of assuring straight, evenly spaced corn rows was the skill of the driver and the planter’s row markers. I’ve already told the story of the time when I was 4 or 5 that dad was planting with a team, turned at the end of the field and dropped the disc row marker right on top of my head. Luckily, I have a hard head, although I still have the scar.

Converting the planter

as old enough to drive the tractor while dad rode the planter, and I remember him often yelling at me to watch where I was going because I would often lose concentration and wander off the mark for the next row.

At some point, the neighborhood mechanic, Al McDonald, welded up a three-point hitch for the 919 and it was thereafter directly attached to the Ford. I don’t recall that the row markers were used after this, and no one rode the planter, but by this time I guess I was old enough to maintain reasonably straight rows.

Invitation

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Roger Martig, the patriarch of Martig Farms on state Route 534 northeast of Salem, invited me to stop out and see how they plant corn now-a-days.

The Martigs put in more than 2,000 acres of corn each year and were already far along with planting this year’s crop.

Martig took me to a large field along Berlin Station Road north of the home farm, where planting was in full swing. The field, which had been in wheat last year, was chisel plowed in the fall.

His son, John Martig, was operating a Cat Challenger pulling a 36-foot wide Krause field cultivator and a Great Plains seed-bed conditioner with open basket crumbler rollers. The soil was left mellow and in excellent condition for planting.

Another son, Marvin, is the corn planting expert of the family and was operating a John Deere 8320T tracked tractor pulling a John Deere 1770, 16-row planter set for 30-inch rows.

I rode in the cab with Marvin for about an hour and got my first look at GPS planting. Remember how I said that back in the day the only assurance of straight, evenly spaced rows was the driver and row markers?

Well, Marvin’s planter had row markers but he never put them into the ground, and he never touched the tractor’s steering wheel while crossing the field. In spite of this, the rows were arrow-straight and each pass was spaced exactly 30 inches from the previous one.

This was accomplished through the miracle of GPS (Global Positioning System), which I don’t really understand. Briefly, there are a number of satellites that are owned by the U.S. government and that circle the earth and continually send out a signal giving the satellite’s position and time.

A receiver in Marvin’s tractor cab gathers the signals from several of these satellites and, by means of a computer program and other wizard-like stuff, keeps the tractor and planter in a straight line and in exactly the correct position to assure no missed or overlapped spots.

At each end of the field, Marvin raised the planting units, clicked a button to turn off the GPS control and manually turned the rig on the headland into position for the next pass. He clicked on the GPS again, let go of the steering wheel and the tractor was automatically steered a little left or right into the precise position for the next 16 rows, where it stayed with no further driver input.

Steady movement

Back and forth we went across the field at a steady 4.5 MPH, planting what Marvin told me was about 15 acres each hour. I think that on our hilly Pennsylvania farm, the largest field we had was maybe 17 or so acres and I’m sure it took at least a couple of days to plant the thing.

My grandfather, and even my father, would be astonished at the progress that has been made in agriculture, and they would be appalled at the cost of the equipment, fuel, seed and fertilizer necessary to plant crops today. I can hardly believe it myself.

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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