Autosteering can help farmers get more done while reducing operator fatigue
2019 is shaping up to be a challenging spring for farmers across a wide swath of the United States. According to the most recent USDA Crop Progress Report (issued 4/29/19) we are well below the five-year average for corn, soybean and wheat acres planted.
- 15% of the corn crop is in (27% is the 5-year average)
- 3% of the soybean crop is in (6% is the 5-year average)
- 13% of the spring wheat crop is in (33% is the 5-year average)
Much has been written in the last few years about the amazing speed of progress that can be made once Mother Nature decides to cooperate. The reality is that the vast majority of the corn and soybean crop can be planted in two weeks, if conditions are right and farmers are pushing to get things in the ground. But what is perhaps most surprising is a recent study that shows that this number has been fairly constant since the 1980s.
Many have assumed that larger planters and technology advancements like autosteer would mean farmers could prep seed beds and plant the crop in a much shorter window of time than 30 years ago. This has proven to be both true and false. A closer look at the data shows us why.
The total time it takes to plant the corn and soybean remains fairly constant since the 1980s, at about 2 weeks. But the continued consolidation of farming operations and the growth of equipment size means that there are fewer planters in use today than 30 years ago. This means we now have fewer farmers, operating fewer, bigger planters that essentially plant at the same rate that more farmers with smaller planters did in the past.
This does mean that we have dramatically increased the planting speed per individual planter unit through the use of scale and technology, but we still require the same overall window of time to plant the crop on a national basis. This places even more pressure on individual farmers in an already stressful time of year, especially those farms that may still be using smaller planters. These smaller planters must try and cover as many acres per hour for as many hours per day as possible.
So as farmers prepare for the grueling schedules they will need to keep in the weeks ahead, it might be worth mentioning one of the side benefits of autosteer – decreased operator fatigue. We have previously talked about autosteer’s ability to decrease overlaps with spring tillage and planting by an average of 3%. This means savings in fuel, equipment, labor, nutrients and seed.
But this also means that farmers are less mentally exhausted after multiple 16-hour days in the tractor. The ability to decrease the mental (and even emotional) stress by creating some time to multitask, talk on the phone, catch up on email or even enjoy a good sunset has intangible value. It allows farmers to keep up on managing other aspects of their operations, and life in general. It means coming home less exhausted and more prepared to engage with spouses and kids. It means better work/life balance at a time of year that historically makes that very difficult.