Note: Check out our [email protected] video report at the end of this story.
There's nothing quite like the rush of planting. Knowing what field one planter is working while another is at work somewhere else. Tracking where a third tractor may be finalizing seedbed prep, and making sure the tending team is keeping up with all of the action.
All in a day's work.
But for the Kilmer family, who farms near Dwight, Ill., the 2017 planting season came with a new wrinkle - full implementation of AutoTrac for tractors - including a competitive machine used for field tillage - and Section Control for two 1770 John Deere 24-row planters. While one planter had section control in 2016, which did show key benefits at the time, this is the first year with all machines fully "teched out."
"We talked about how I would follow a line in the past," Dan Kilmer explained while checking monitors and keeping his hands off the wheel. "I would line up a target across the field and just keep my eye on it."
For every farmer that has taken that long look, and then piloted the tractor all day, there was one common theme. "I was tired out," Dan said.
For the 2017 season, he saw a big difference - noting he was going to cover more acres in a day than ever before. During the late-April visit Farm Futures made to the farm, the family was nearly finished with corn planting. While post-planting rains have created the need for some replant, at least most planting was done early.
Dan's brother Tim echoed the sentiment, noting he can also keep track of the equipment during planting rather than just looking ahead during operation.
Field prep and tech
Darryl Kilmer, Dan and Tim's father, was also hard at work doing final seedbed prep. And while he was operating a competitive tractor brand, there was a John Deere yellow Starfire receiver on top of the cab with AutoTrac going. We never caught up with Darryl during planting - he was tilling non-stop but Dan noted that "Dad really likes auto-steering for tillage work, he can get more done too."
There was skepticism about how this tech in the equipment would create the benefits so many talk about. How do you put a price on auto-steering or row control? Tim noted that in the past manually shutting off row clutches "was a time killer. We are covering a lot more ground now."
With a shortened planting window - Northern Illinois saw its fair share of rain - being able to cover more acres per day and with less fatigue offers double benefits. First, the opportunity costs of not getting to those acres if rains return would be impact both yield and income. For the fatigue? Well Dan and Tim both have toddler children they're spending more quality time with these days.
A special hitch
For Dan's tractor, he used the Automatic Implement Guidance hitch for 2017. The hitch, which slides 11-inches either way, can help keep the planter on track in wide-ranging terrain. Ben Smith, a John Deere Advance Marketing Project Manager, explained that moving the hitch point 1-inch can cause a 2.75-inch position change at the row unit. "This helps make sure that the implement follows the intended path creating better placement when planting, and helps when the same hitch is used later with an in-season fertilizer application rig," Smith said.
Both the tractor and planter have a GPS receiver, which provides necessary information for the hitch to make those corrections.
Another benefit of the AIG is keeping planting consistent across the field with row-widths correct, which is of growing importance as farmers push up plant populations. The Kilmers will be applying in-season fertilizer using the system, which we'll offer insight on in our next [email protected] report.