It is officially that time of year again. No, I am not talking about planting, I am talking about waiting. Every year, we play the waiting game. Is the soil dry enough? Is the soil warm enough? Is the forecast favorable for good growth? And the questions go on and on. The truth of the matter is that it is an incredibly trying time that taxes the patience of the best of us. And at some point in time, the waiting gets the better of most of us. It is a cool day, or the soil is a little wet, but the sun is out? Everything is ready to go in the shed. So you decide to load up and “just go try it.” Inevitably though, the decision to “see how it works” turns into a full day of planting because it went so well. Today, I want to talk about the notion that we need to stop everything and do some evaluating at some point before we keep going.
The notion of pumping the brakes and stopping once we get started is noble, but I also realize it to be unrealistic. There is something hardwired into all of us to keep going until the job is done, and that notion is as strong on day one as it is on day ten. But, I think we should go into day number one with a 40-acre goal. Let me explain what I mean.
If the goal on day number one was to plant 40 acres, what would you do differently than if your goal is to finish a full quarter? I can think of a few that I would do. First of all, I am going to start off by getting a strap, and tie my closing wheels up on a couple of rows and plant 50-100 feet. Finding seeds in a closed trench is a lot like hunting mushrooms. Some people have a knack for it, and others aren’t as successful. Tying the closing wheels up for a few feet gets rid of this problem. Then I am going to be out with my seed tool measuring the consistency of planting depth and spacing. I want to make sure the fundamentals are set up correctly right away. If you replaced wear parts like the openers, or even the gauge wheels, the settings that you ended last year with are not going to be right for the beginning of this year. This is also a great time to see just how we are doing with residue management, and if we are getting trash in the furrow, making a valley by digging too much dirt, etc.
Once I have my settings where I want them as far a depth, cleaning wheels, and closing wheel tension go, I am going to move on the planter ride. I want you to plant a couple of hundred feet, and stop with the planter in the ground. Get out and walk around the planter and check those parallel arms for how they are running with the ground. The truth is you should do this before all of the depth adjustments, and every time you make a change. Yield is lost by these being off a few degrees. All of these have to be done before you even begin to worry about down pressure.
When all of those things are done, it is time to focus on your monitor. Shut off the phone and make this your sole focus for 1 hour. You have parts on this planter that have sat still for 11 months. Your monitor will help you see chains that are skipping, singulation that is poor because you have a wrong seed plate or the vacuum is set wrong. The gauge wheel sensors will tell you if you are getting good contact (and you need to dig to make sure you aren’t creating sidewall compaction from too much down pressure.) If you do all of this, and then fix the little things before you move on, I think you will have a lot more confidence in the rest of the season.
Again, I know that this is all good intentions, but it is hard to slow down and evaluate vs. putting a foot on the gas pedal. So let me give you this as a comparative stat. If you dig up 100 seeds for every 160 acres that you plant, you are getting the same view of your seed trench as you would get if you made a trip around the world and kept your eyes open for a half of a mile. We all know that the optimum window for planting is small, so stopping for anything is less than desirable. So let’s make sure everything is working to expectations before we go gung-ho, and then trust the monitor and sensors on our planter to be another set of underground eyes. And believe it or not, it is still possible to get a better set of eyes or upgrade your planter monitors capabilities before we start planting. Getting a hold of your FSA or ACS Equipment Specialist is a great way to make sure you are prepared when the chaos gets here.