High-Tech Rigs Help U.S. Farmers Plow Through Seeding

Incessant rain throughout the spring had delayed Iowa farmer Byron Wegner’s planting plans, and prospects of lower yields loomed large if he did not start seeding his corn crop within a week.

But he had an ace in the hole: two state-of-the-art 24-row planters equipped with satellite guidance systems. When clear skies provided a window of opportunity, his team seeded all 3,800 acres of his cornfields in just six days.

Technological advances in farm equipment are constantly cutting the time it takes to plant a crop, reducing risks and uncertainties that have price implications across the globe.

This year more than most, the world is looking to the U.S. crop to replenish dwindling global supplies and slow food inflation that is surging in nations like China and India.

Farmers are taking full advantage of the new technology on rigs that allow them to plant well past sundown and take fewer breaks during the day.

“You put in extra effort,” said Wegner, who grows corn and beans near Radcliffe, Iowa, in the central portion of the state. “You work Sundays and you work late in the night to get it done. Normally we would not push it that hard but it was getting to the point where you had to make a move fast. It was time to get it in if you want optimum yields, no question about that.”

U.S. farmers managed to seed more than a quarter of their corn crop in the week ended May 8, boosting their total seedings to 40 per cent of intended acreage, according to a U.S. Agriculture Department report released May 9.

The pace surprised analysts who feared rainy weather in the eastern half of the corn belt would limit seeded acreage to 30 per cent.

“It is amazing how quickly things go around here as guys have gone to bigger and bigger planters,” said Nebraska farmer Brandon Hunnicutt. He seeded his entire 2,600-acre corn crop in eight days with a 24-row planter that lets him seed about an acre of corn about every two minutes.

Global positioning systems and auto steering let farmers run planters through the night if they wish without worrying about straying off course.

New planters also can seed corn at speeds as much as 50 per cent faster than some of the older models, providing a key advantage to growers who only need a short break between rainstorms to get their crop in the field.

“Farm sizes and field sizes are bigger than they used to be and planters are bigger,” said Roger Elmore, agronomist at Iowa State University. “And we have better technology in terms of guidance, better lighting, and a lot more creature comforts in the cab – that makes less wear and tear on a body.”

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