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KAREN SCHWALLER

By Staff | Aug 16, 2013

I think most farmers could attest to the fact that spring planting was a royal pain in the back pew this year, under the auspices of a somewhat menopausal Mother Nature.

She can no longer control her own thermostat, can’t remember which months should have snow and which should have rain in them, and she seems to be expanding around her monsoon section, such as we witnessed earlier this year.

During past spring planting seasons when we have not needed oars or snow boards during April or May, I have ridden with my husband in the designated planting tractor as he has gone about the business of seeding a crop. He plants the seeds that allow me to stand at the check-out counter and purchase a box of corn flakes, which cost almost as much as an entire bushel of corn – when there can’t be a quarter cup of corn in the entire box, if that. But that’s another day’s soap box.

Once I’ve gained access into the captain’s deck of the rural version of the Starship Enterprise, I’m amazed at all the gadgets, monitors, cables and technology that are all gathered into that small tractor cab. It’s an information superhighway, a producer’s Command Central – the likes of which the CIA would find suspicious if they had any idea that their food comes from the work of our nation’s farmers and ranchers who use this technology.

There are screens that tell you where you are in the field, how many seeds you’re planting, how many acres you’ve covered, whether or not a planter box is working, devices that shut off certain planter boxes as they are not needed, and far more.

There’s probably a hidden screen that monitors the hygiene habits of the person operating the tractor. That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t say what I weigh.

It’s so high-tech today – at least for producers who don’t want to be left in the dust as the rest of the agricultural world moves ahead.

This past spring I slipped around outside the tractor cab one day to get the view of the great hoard of cables and cords that keep all of those monitors running, which in turn, keeps the farmer running. All wadded up in one corner of the cab, they looked more like the innards of a large and pregnant raccoon, but somehow they are responsible for keeping the day on track.

And while these monitors and new technological advances can make us much smarter about how we plant our crops, they can also lead to early dementia. You know how it is – if one thing doesn’t work, the whole operation goes down?and you know how well people handle strings of Christmas lights that don’t work.

The truth is, you can throw Christmas lights away for the stress they cause, and get another string for a couple of bucks. At the cost of these cables and wires, selling classified information to the Russians is about the only way to pay for replacements.

And the shipping would be atrocious.

Being tech-savvy is a must for today’s progressive farmer, though it’s been known to involve a few colorful words in the height of the process when things aren’t going well, followed by the need to visit the nearest confessional because of said language. A visit to the local watering hole should take place only after confessing the sins of the day, lest the sins sound more like something that should be confessed in front of a federal judge.

Times have changed since the days when my husband was first able to plant his own crop. He had a Farmall Super M and an older I-H Cyclo planter. He just backed up and hooked on to the planter, filled the box and started down the rows, feeling like Paula Deen must have back in the good old days of last year.

Truly, I don’t know how they take all that pressure. I think it’s a relief they have such a thing as auto steer now, so the farmer can spend the time he needs watching the monitors, making sure the planter and all those cables stay hooked up, making sure the planter doesn’t plug up, creating field maps, calculating seed use and estimated bushels, and dreaming about what equipment he can buy before next year to make the process easier and more profitable.

Personally, I think it would be easier and more profitable to sell classified information to the Russians.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net

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