Getting ready to plant

This is my getting-ready-for-planting column, a topic I write about each spring. I enjoy writing every column for Wallaces Farmer, but like a lot of things in farming, getting ready to plant happens yearly and the routine is often the same: Prepare the tractors, planter, tillage equipment, and hopefully, everything will run like tops when the ground is ready to go. This year I have something new to tell you about.

You may remember two years ago I performed a major overhaul on my mid-1970s John Deere 7000 12-row planter, from taking every row unit apart, replacing parts as needed, repainting each piece, and finally, reassembling the whole thing with minimal leftover pieces. (Kind of like those plastic cars you built when you were a kid, right?) It made a new planter out of our old rig, but there were still a few upgrades I wanted to do.

These upgrades are worth it

The goal this spring is to have variable-rate population drives on each half of the planter (one for each six rows), as well as high-accuracy seed sensors in each row to accurately measure the population rate. These systems will be connected to an Ag Leader InSight, which does the controlling, monitoring and recording. The InSight, in turn, gets its GPS signal from an older Ag Leader/Trimble EZ-Guide Plus guidance system, which also steers the tractor with an EZ-Steer steering system.

Why the upgrades? Seed is getting more valuable, not only in actual purchase price but also in potential return per acre. Knowing that each row is performing as well as it can is important. Likewise, variable-rate population can allow me to
fine-tune the population rate to the needs of the field and the product, and allow me to perform some test plots to determine optimum population rates. (Didn’t think I would get away from doing test plots, did you?)

The hydraulic drives require more hydraulic power than my old JD 4450 is capable of producing, so I opted for a custom-built PTO-driven system. This way, the two motors will have an ample supply of oil, and if I ever decide to upgrade yet again to vacuum meters (away from my current mechanical meters), I’ll have the capacity to add that system as well.

Of course, this adds another layer of complication to the system. At present, I have a pair of drive contact tires that drive the meters. This is simple; drop the planter and go. I plan on keeping the drive tires, but disconnecting them from the drive system to allow the hydraulic drives to work. However, if one of the motors goes out, I’ll have a backup plan ready by re-engaging that side’s drive tire system.

Also, it makes my cab appear even more like a rat’s nest of wires, especially behind and to the right of the operator’s seat. There’s only so much you can do to improve the appearance, but in the end, there will be probably a mile’s worth of copper wire sitting next to me where I would typically put my cold drink. Perhaps it’s a worthy trade-off, and I can always find another cup holder.

Helping each other out

It helps to have a neighbor who is a good welder. While working on my own planter I’ve also taken on assisting my friend Jason with his two planters. As you may remember, Jason helped get my father’s “stuff” rounded up for Dad’s auction last year in April.

Jason and I are trading services with each other this spring — my assistance in rebuilding his planters in return for Jason’s welding and fabrication services. (He has a six-row corn planter and a 13-row, soon-to-be 17-row, 15-inch three-point planter for soybeans; both are from the John Deere 7000 series.) Jason is a great welder and builds artwork out of used and broken farm equipment pieces. This works out well for both of us, as he is in his second year of farming and hasn’t learned all the tricks to getting a good corn crop planted. I’m helping him with that.

Jason purchased both these older planters last year after planting, so this will be their first time in the field for him. Both rigs had been used hard. Upon inspection, we found the disk openers were worn down to 13.5 inches; these typically should be replaced at 14.25 inches.

Seed tubes, sensors, harnesses, gauge arms and more also showed their wear.

We worked out a “must-replace” list and a “next-year” list of parts and repairs. The disk openers, tubes, sensors and harness all needed replacing this year, no matter what. The gauge wheels could get by for perhaps another year, especially on the bean planter, but we should budget to replace them next year. I told Jason with corn at $6 per bushel and soybeans at $13 we can’t afford any planting mistakes.

We calculated what his time is worth during planting if his corn crop grossed $1,000 per acre next fall; it’s $9,000 an hour. That made an impression on him that we need to do things right the first time.

So, hopefully, after the repairs and upgrades have been made, we’ll have a great spring season to plant our crop.

And we all need to remember — focus on getting things done, but stay safe and watch out for others on the roadways this spring.

Gunzenhauser farms near Humeston.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.