"Farmers must understand how a piece of equipment works and then not be afraid of changing it to improve its performance," says UNL Extension engineer, Paul Jasa. "They need to understand the strengths or weaknesses of the equipment and then correct the weaknesses."
When they began no-till farming in 1996 because of a desire to save the soil and save on fuel by reducing passes through the field, they were familiar with the basic row unit on IH planters. But heavy cornstalk residue left in the field under no-till conditions is a challenge, compared to conventional fields where that residue to disked into the soil.
While no single innovation is more useful than others, there are several modifications the Dvoraks made to their planter to make it more efficient. "We have 100% GPS control and mapping on the planter," Chris says. He customized an old guidance system from a cultivator to work in concert with the planter markers to keep the planter and tractor off the former corn rows when planting soybeans into corn residue, providing better seed-to-soil contact without interference from the residue. He converted standard double-wheel residue movers to a single-wheel version. He also built a starter fertilizer system that places one third of the fertilizer in the furrow and the other two thirds behind the closing disks, to reduce salt contact with the seed.
Dvorak installed row shut-offs for seed and starter fertilizer, along with hydraulic drives to run the seed. This allows him to more precisely place seed and fertilizer without wasting these expensive inputs. "I have also built a custom pneumatic down-pressure system that has control in the cab of the tractor," Dvorak says. "These features are useful in our variable rate planting prescriptions for our many different soil types and on irrigated land and dryland areas" where Dvorak can change the planting population so he is seeding more thickly on the most fertile land, and cutting back on less fertile land that will not produce as well.
He says that working with his father has made for a good team effort at implementing new practices. "We are continuing to use soil tests and have fine-tuned our fertilizer variable rate application," Dvorak says. "Desktop software and GPS mapping have made all of this possible."
"The Dvoraks are using new, old and self-invented modifications to improve their planter and control inputs on-the-go while planting," Jasa says. "Recognizing and addressing variability is needed to improve profitability while reducing risks."
But the Dvoraks are not satisfied with their success. Looking to the future, they hope to expand acres to bring the next generation into the operation. "I want to continue to stay up to date with technologies and new practices, implementing what we see to be the right fit for our farm," Chris says.
If you like this story or learned something you didn't know by reading it, please pass it on to someone interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the last Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the families growing our food. Next month I'll feature Danny and Josie Kluthe of Dodge, Neb., who were awarded the Nebraska Pork Producers Association Environmental Stewardship Award this past week for their work using a methane digester to render their manure lagoon odorless and to convert hog manure from their swine operation into methane that generates electricity powering up to 50 homes.