Plan for a smooth and efficient planting season

TWO FARMERS OFFER ADVICE ON HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF THE PLANTING SEASON

planting is just around the corner and with the memory of last season’s depressing planting conditions still fresh, many farmers are gearing up to make 2012 run as smoothly as possible.

Lots of research highlights the benefits of early planting. Unfortunately, the major factor determining a farmer’s ability to plant early is uncontrollable – the weather. However, there are a number of strategies that can be adopted to ensure planting is as efficient as possible when the weather is “just right.”

planning makes perfect
“Efficient planting starts with planning,” says Chris Burkholder, a grain farmer from Stouffvillle. On Chris’ farm, he involved his employees in the planning process long before planting begins. “You should include your employees in the planning because it instills a sense of passion,” he says.

After hybrid selection and field planning, taking stock of the state of equipment is key in avoiding planting hold-ups. “Spring starts in the fall on our farm,” says Frank Dietrich who farms near Lucan.

On the Dietrich farm, Frank does a careful review of all equipment and makes a list of repairs and parts required long before the snow melts. “Walk around your planter and wiggle everything,” he says. “Make sure it all works.” He recommends paying special attention to wheel bearings which are often overlooked but can cause significant backlogs in the field if something goes wrong.

Although it makes a bit of a mess, Frank suggests doing a trial run with the planter on the laneway. It’s a good way to identify equipment problems before you get out into the field where time can be tight and patience can be thin.

tighten logistics
Once the soil is fit, it’s important to continue managing logistics with efficiency in mind. “In the morning, I put enough fertilizer and seed on the truck for the whole day,” says Chris. “I don’t want to be making runs back to the farm; I don’t want to do anything that will slow us down.” Although this may seem like a small logistical concern, for some farmers it makes a big difference.

Chris farms 2,500 acres of corn, white beans, wheat and soybeans and he aims to plant everything in 10 days or less. In addition to his own personal timelines, he has the additional challenge of farming near an urban area.

Another bottleneck we have is traffic,” he says. “We can’t move from farm to farm in rush hour so we have to time it just right.” This concession is as much for his own efficiency goals as it is for ensuring his employees are being as safe as possible on busy roads in large equipment.

For the Dietrich farm, Frank tries to thwart challenges that may arise in the field in advance with careful preparation. “Parts come along for the ride,” says Frank. He keeps a careful eye on the contents of each toolbox to ensure that he’s not stuck running back to the shop when something could be fixed right in the field. He also keeps spare wheels, bearings and other essential parts right on the machine for quick and easy replacements.

longer term solutions
There are lots of other more long-term changes that can also impact planting efficiency that are unique to each farm. “Drainage is our biggest bottleneck,” says Chris. They have tile drainage on as much of their land as possible, but as they rent acreage, there is concern about the long-term investment required to benefit from tiling.

Tillage is another hang-up that can be tweaked to speed up spring planting. “We’ve gone away from moldboard plowing,” says Chris. “We disc chisel in the fall and again in the spring. Our goal is to till only once in the spring.” To facilitate this, Chris has installed row cleaners on the planter which he touts as a “miracle tool” for his farm.

For Frank’s operation, he’s invested in equipment. With 1,500 acres and a goal of planting all corn and soybeans in four days, it’s no surprise he relies heavily on his tractors. “We have a tractor hitched to everything,” he says. “Tractors cost money but it also costs when you don’t get the crop in.”

STAY IN THE LOOP WITH #PLANT12
When planting season does roll around, many farmers feel chained to the tractor, cut off from the outside world. Fortunately, with all the technology available today, there is no reason to be out of the loop from what’s happening beyond the field.

Many farmers have started logging on to Twitter to keep up to date on planting progress throughout the province and across North America. With an easy-to-use app on your smartphone, farmers can connect to other farmers from across the world from right in the tractor cab.

Last year, Ontario farmers connected to commiserate with others who were also struggling with the weather and share their eventual planting success using the search term “#plant11.”  The only difference this year is an expected spike in the number of farmers tuning in as Twitter becomes more popular in the countryside.

For Wayne Black, a farmer in Huron County, Twitter helps him stay connected while he’s planting. Beyond keeping up to date with neighbours and friends from across the province, he also says it can help him manage other aspects of his farm business. “It allows for quick news and market updates on my schedule,” he says.
For more information on Twitter, how to sign up and get started, visit us online at www.ontariograinfarmer.ca. •