Switching populations on-the-go either manually or by signals form a computer in the cab, directed for location in the field by a GPS signal, would have seemed far out to your grandfather. It’s a common practice and becoming more common as more people install hydraulic drives on their planters that make switching rates on the go possible.
Even your father, however, probably still thinks changing hybrids, yes hybrids, on the go in a single pass across the field is straight out of Buck Rogers. If you don’t know who Buck Rogers is, he was a fictional character who went into outer space in the 1950’s, when most people thought manned space flight was impossible. In a generation man was on the moon, let alone just in space.
Its’ quite possible from where we sit that in your lifetime, you may have the ability to switch hybrids, manually or more likely by computer signal, across the field. If one soil type can handle a high-roller hybrid but there’s too much risk of stress in other parts of field, you can dial in where it needs to go, and at what population it should be planted as well.
Monsanto introduced the concept just a couple years ago at a media tour at a Farm Progress Show. It seemed a bit pie in the sky, but they actually rigged up a John Deer mini-planter bar to show how planters could have two hybrids on board, and that the computer could signal a switch. It wasn’t even a prototype, just a concept.
Now Beck’s Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind, is taking the concept to their Practical Farm Research plots. They’re also beefing up the plots with more replication this year in many cases to make them true tests and not just demonstrations.
In one study they determined what would be the best hybrid for each of two distinct soil types in one field. Then they planted the field in sections, planting one hybrid, changing seed, then filling in the pass.
No, you wouldn’t go to that much trouble on your farm. But history says that if agronomy shows a practice works and there is payoff to the farmer, machinery companies will build the equipment it takes to make it happen. Keep variable-rate hybrids in the back of your mind as ypo8u ponder what the future might be like for farming, either for you or for the next generation.