Seeding- A Frustrating, But Rewarding, Marathon of Challenges

One week has passed in #plant14 on Leguee Farms, and I can honestly say I am exhausted. Last Saturday (well, Friday night) we started seeding – kind of. Our first three days were plagued by problem after frustrating problem, each one seemingly worse than the last. We were already a day later than we wanted to be, and the new drill wasn’t going to be easy to get to the field. I wrote this next bit sitting in the cab of the tractor trying to get seeding:

Sometimes seeding just sucks.

Right now, I am sitting in the cab of our Case tractor, hooked to our new Seed Master drill, where I have spent the past 10 hours. Normally, this would be just fine – but that would be if I were actually accomplishing something. Since 6:00 this morning, we have been fighting with this air drill, trying to get it working. The air drill is new this year, and it has been nothing but trouble so far.

Let me give you a little bit of background. Last fall, we leased a new Seed Master air drill, hooked to a John Deere air cart, and seeded winter wheat. Everything went quite well with that, and we pulled it with one of our old John Deere 9400 tractors. Now, thinking we were being smart, we bought a Case tractor to pull the drill. “Hook a Case to a Deere cart,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. Well, they were wrong. Connecting two different systems into one has been a serious headache. Complicating things further was the addition of the liquid fertilizer system to the drill, which we have run on our previous drills for quite a long time, but clearly added complication to this new system. 

Why did we buy a Case tractor instead of a John Deere? Well, Case builds a Quadtrac tractor, which has tracks to replace the tires on all four corners. Deere also offers a track tractor, but they are single tracks on each side, much like a big industrial Cat, which is hard to steer and much less versatile than the quad track design. But I’m not sure it was worth it!

To make a long story short, I am sitting here with a $700,000 set of equipment doing nothing. It is supposed to rain tomorrow, and we are already late starting seeding as it is. Delays are not acceptable at this stage. I was expecting some troubles in getting this thing working, but not this much. Not even close. The worst part is, we still don’t know what the problem is! This is a nightmare.

–Saturday, May 10

And it was. It would be another full day of work to get that air drill going. Sunday evening, it finally seemed as though we had worked through the issues, and the new SeedMaster was finally rolling. Two full days of delays had cost us, but it was still early. We could make up the time. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.

The rest of the week was a blur, with only a few other major issues, such as a blown fertilizer pump on the new liquid wagon (still not really sure why, I only know that it cost us a half a day and $1,500 for a new pump) and only a couple of minor stucks. Despite the issues, in that week we seeded the Green Peas, the lentils, 40% of the durum, half the canola and some spring wheat. I’d say we did pretty well!

The nice thing about having two large air drills is that when things go right, you can accomplish a lot in a day. We had a couple of 700+ acre days, and if there hadn’t been such a heavy dew this morning, we could have done that again today.

Keeping up with these drills is a challenge, and the trucks are non-stop busy all day. Hauling fertilizer and seed to the drills is a full-time job for two people, so our drill operators do tend to get stuck out in the field longer than they should. We are trying to address that by getting on a drill in the morning to get it going, but other jobs keep getting in the way!

All the pea and lentil ground needs to be rolled to flatten the fields out (these crops grow very low to the ground, so the combine needs to be able to run its header on the ground without picking dirt), many fields need vertical tillage to clean up last year’s straw, and most important of all, the sprayer needs to stay ahead of the drills to kill weeds before the crop comes up.

All of this can come together with organization and enough people to help. This weekend, my younger sister and her husband came out to help. We need all the people we can get to keep everything moving!

That’s all for now; it’s late and I have to get up very early to get the SeedMaster rolling in the morning. Rain is forecast for Monday, so we need to get all we can done ahead of it. Sleep will be in short supply tonight and tomorrow night! We have had a great week, covering 4,500 acres and 41% of the land, especially considering the challenges we had to fight through. If we can keep up the pace we have been running, in a week there won’t be much left (assuming it doesn’t rain). The marathon continues…

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The Rain Conundrum

We have now reached the 2/3rds mark on our seeding progress. I feel that this is acceptable, given that we only started seeding two weeks ago, but I can’t help but feel that it could be better. This feeling is of course unfounded, as there are only so many hours in a day; sleep needs to be a part of life too. This is an activity that has been in short supply. I have not gotten more than five to five and a half hours of sleep per night for two weeks now. For someone that is used to seven to nine hours, this is a bit of a shock. Interestingly, despite the difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning, I seem to be handling it relatively well. We will see what another week brings.

With two thirds of the crop in, two crops out of the way (the peas and soybeans are finished) and one more almost completed (durum), I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are getting close. One more week should finish it off. We still have half the canola and the spring wheat to seed, but these will go quickly. 

Not everything has gone on without a hitch. Seeding rate problems in our soybeans cost us thousands of dollars in little more than a few hours, and inoculant rate problems gave us trouble as well. It is impossible to know what the full ramifications of these issues will be until the crop is out of the ground, but suffice to say that yield will likely be affected. 

The seeding rate problem in the soybeans was a simple yet difficult issue. You see, every time you change crops, you must calibrate the metering rollers (long cylinders with notches in them that are run at a set speed for a given rate) in the touchscreen monitors in the tractor cab. 99% of the time, this results in the product or seed being metered at the proper rate. Sometimes, unfortunately, something goes wrong, and the rate turns out to be wrong. Rarely, however, does it turn out to be as wrong as in our soybeans this year. We wanted to seed them at 60 pounds per acre, and calibrated for that. The result was that they went down at 100 pounds per acre. This may not seem like a big deal, but these soybeans cost $100 per acre at 60 pounds per acre. The math is hurtful.

Once the tank went empty, the problem was identified and fixed. But money was still lost. This is farming in the 21st century; tiny mistakes cost big dollars. The pressure on us to get everything right the first time has never been higher, and even the most sophisticated computer software cannot completely eliminate human error. Lack of sleep exacerbates this issue.

Usually in the inexorable march through the acres, a rain or two will shut everything down for a couple of days. This has yet to happen; which is nice in that seeding is progressing quickly, particularly given the late start this year, but a fear is growing in the back of my mind.

A month ago, nay three weeks ago, snow was still a major part of our landscape. We worried that we would not get our crop in due to snow and water persisting well into June. Even a week ago, snowbanks still sat tall in the yards and sloughs. Now, it is dry. Quite dry. Concern gnaws at the back of my mind, waiting for the day when the first rain will come, knowing that we have not had moisture since that ugly day of snow in the beginning of the month. That was not the concern then.

Today, we have a great deal of our acres seeded, and many of our crops sit in the ground, waiting for a rain before they will germinate. While this is not an unusual amount of time to wait for a rain, we do need one- and soon. The hundreds of thousands of dollars we have sown into the soil will not be returned to us without rain. Yet, it is still late, and we do need to avoid delays to ensure the crop goes in on time. It is somewhat of a conundrum. Nevertheless, we need it, and although the forecast calls for it, that is no guarantee. Let me just say this: if it has not rained by this time next week, I will be worried. 

Back to the grind tomorrow. Hopefully the wind stays down so I can try and catch up with spraying. It has been a windy week of 40 km/hr gusts every day (I am not exaggerating) and I am sick of it. This windy province has been too damn windy lately. It’s exhausting, not to mention its frustrating barricade against the sprayer.

Talk to you soon.