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By Staff | May 15, 2009

There was about seven or eight years of my life when my favorite way of getting around was my red Sears Roebuck bicycle. Actually, since I was too young to drive, it was my only way of going places on my own.

Riding a bicycle around a farm and on gravel roads was limiting until I visited my cousin in town with my bicycle and then we traveled on hard-surfaced roads. What a difference that was.

One day I watched someone pedal by without holding the handlebar and then I saw you could ride hands free. Eventually, I tried it on my own, could pedal along, and could even turn corners with a slight leaning. The phrase “Look, no hands” was one I could repeat when showing off like many other bike riders.

It was a phrase I thought applied to bike riders until yesterday when I rode with my neighbor Doug while he planted corn. Doug’s tractor is equipped with auto steer and this is his second season with it. I was standing on the end of the field as he pulled up and he was pouring a cup of coffee from his thermos when he stopped the tractor so I could climb in.

I opened the cab door and asked him if this was the break room. He said it was. We made a round and I asked him if auto steer would ever be on a combine. He figured that day was coming.

I teased him about the only thing he had to do was start the tractor turning on the end and let the guidance system set the direction to straighten out for the next pass. His only other job was raising and lowering the planter for turning around on the end. Doug said he was looking at a planter next year that he would not even have to do those tasks. I commented that we seem to be headed for a day when farmers will not be needed at all. I do not believe I want to be around for that day.

Satellite guidance systems are commonplace today and yet they amaze me at what they do. There was a time when a planter going across a field with both markers up in the air was a sign of a mistake, but not any more. Who would have thought markers on a planter could become almost unnecessary.

Neither is planting limited to daylight anymore. Doug told how he goes for many longer hours now with much less fatigue.

Rows done by GPS are tight string straight. For many years, I tried my hardest to plant arrow straight rows and finally gave up declaring that straight rows were dull. My rows were artistic with their graceful arc as I sighted from one end of the field to the other. Plus my rows with their bend in them contained more kernels of corn than a straight row adding to my yield. So, there.

Back when we cultivated, it was imperative that the cultivator followed the planter tracks. If you were off even one row, you would know it by the amount of uprooted plants you left in the cultivator’s wake. If we ever cultivate again, it will be with GPS and cultivating, like planting, will no longer be a job reserved for daylight hours. Who would have ever imagined that?

I do not believe farmers will be eliminated very soon. Somebody still has to fill the planter. Our jobs are safe for now.

In the mean time, how about adding a coffee maker to the interior of a tractor cab? I say it is the next logical step in tractor design and advancement. How about a magazine rack, too? What else are you going to do with your hands?

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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