Greetings from beautiful Day County in northeast South Dakota! After a long cold winter, spring is finally upon us, and it is planting season on my family’s corn, soybean and spring wheat farm. With this post I hope to give you a brief look into one of the busier times of the year on the farm.
Spring can be equal parts exciting and frustrating as the thrill of planting can quickly give way to the disappointment of a weather delay. We were fortunate enough to start seeding spring wheat on April 15 and finished on April 22. This year seeding conditions were about as good as we have seen for quite some time, and it was especially encouraging considering last year we did not begin seeding wheat until May 4.
As often happens, a good run of planting and hectic activity was brought to an abrupt halt as the first of many rounds of rain showers came through last week. This time of year farmers turn into amateur meteorologists, checking the radar and forecasts regularly, so I knew we would be going into wait mode because this weather system was predicted to hang around for a while (10 days and counting). Patience is a virtue – one that I do not possess – but I know this moisture will be very valuable later in the year, so for now all we can do is wait. A bonus of this rain delay is I will be able to attend my 5-year-old son’s second career soccer game tonight. I plan on bottling up some of the energy the Chickadees are sure to display and use it when I’m getting worn down later.
Soon enough, it will be full speed ahead at 4.8 mph. That may not sound very fast, but as the planter lumbers through the field at about that speed, there is a lot going on. Like many modern planters, ours is electronically controlled and monitored, so I have most planter functions and a view of its performance at my fingertips in the tractor cab. The GPS on board that automatically steers the planter tractor also teams up with various sensors on the planter to create “as planted” maps of many important planter operations. All this information is displayed in real time on a monitor and iPad in the tractor cab. My job is to make sure all these systems are working together to allow the planter to do its job of placing every seed exactly 2 inches deep and 6.2 inches from its neighbor. At more than 300 seeds per second, this is no small task! The first day is always the most stressful as we work out the bugs, but once we get into a groove and things start clicking, the sense of accomplishment is hard to beat.
Of course the end goal is to grow a crop and sell it (preferably at a profit), and an increasingly large part of my time is spent analyzing the profit margin for each crop and watching for selling opportunities. Today’s technology allows me to see the Chicago Board of Trade market prices live, not only in my office but in the tractor on the iPad as well. CBOT prices can be particularly volatile in the spring, so there is a lot of money at risk on a minute-by-minute basis, but tracking profit margin is always on my mind regardless of the season.
Farming has certainly come a long way since the days of open cab tractors, as technology continues to improve our productivity and our profitability, while reducing our impact on the land and water. It’s a great time to be an American farmer.
Ryan Wagner operates a family-owned farm near Roslyn, South Dakota. He and his wife Kerri participated in the 2013 TRCP Conservation Exchange Program.