Editor's note: Check out our video report for this installment of Tech at Work. Dan and Tim Kilmer are getting ready for a busy planting season.
It’s easy to talk about how great high-tech tools are for the farm. But where the rubber meets the road is in making sure you’re ready when the work begins. We’ve been following the Kilmer family, near Dwight, Ill., since harvest, and on our last visit they were getting ready to plant.
Perhaps in the old days that might have meant fixing some planter chains, tuning up the tractor and getting seed into the warehouse. And while some of those tasks are still important, so are fine-tuning field boundaries for guidance systems and installing all-new clutches on a John Deere 1770NT planter.
“We had field boundaries last year, but it’s amazing what a difference a couple inches can make,” says Dan Kilmer, who spent a lot of unseasonably warm Illinois winter days driving his utility vehicle around every field with a GPS unit to refine those boundaries for 2017.
Precision ag really means precision ag, as the Kilmers have found as they’ve brought new tech onto their farm. Those field boundaries will help make sure planting is even more accurate. For 2017, the family also upgraded its second planter with RowCommand, to improve planting efficiency and avoid overlaps. Tim Kilmer notes that this is something anyone can do to their planter.
“I think the initial cost can scare a guy off from the upgrade,” Tim says. “But once it’s installed, there’s nothing to using RowCommand. It’s working for us.”
In this series, we’ve noted that the family sent seed back last year. For the corn planter, which had not been upgraded (that’s the machine with new parts for 2017), eight to 10 units were returned last year. For areas where soybeans were planted with the new system, 24 units were returned. “We were surprised by the seed we sent back,” Tim adds. “But we used RowCommand to plant most of the soybeans; we didn’t for corn.”
And there’s another savings. Particular as they are, the Kilmers know overlaps cut yield, so their father, Darryl, cultivates out the overlapped seed. In 2016, for the planter with row shut-offs, Darryl didn’t have to do that. “He went to the first field and saw there were no overlaps, and he came home,” Tim says.
While getting those field boundaries fine-tuned will be good for 2017 planting, having planters ready is important, too. The row clutches added are important, but so is pneumatic downforce.
“With RowCommand you really need downforce, so you’re getting good seed placement across the planter,” Tim says. In addition, there isn’t room for the original springs with the new system in place.
Of course, there’s the installation process for the tech, which Dan notes is basically the process of doing the same thing 24 times for the planter. “It is tedious, but it’s not that hard,” he notes. The joke was the pile of boxes in the shop, which both Kilmers laughed about. They even took the wire harnesses (which they replaced) and laid them out in the yard, making a long snake of wires.
“It was a long line,” Tim jokes.
High-tech tools save time and money, and boost productivity. Of course, you also have to lay the groundwork for proper use. It’s a tactic the Kilmers know well.