CHAPIN, Ill. (DTN) -- Dean Werries monitored everything that mattered to him from his tractor cab last week. No less than eight monitors surrounded him, constantly spewing information to indicate corn was being seeded in a precise fashion.
With one ear trained on the beeps and warning alerts associated with corn planting, he turned the other to the radio and the broadcast of his daughter's softball game. "It's killing me not to be there," said Werries. "I don't miss very many, but a year like this, you've just got to roll."
And roll they did. Work shifts allowed Werries and his father, John, to keep a planter in the field 24 hours a day last week. As of Monday, the west-central Illinois father-son duo had planted nearly 3,500 acres despite rain events that have delayed them off and on all spring.
The planting progress of this past week is testimony to how small the planting window can be and still get the job done. According to reports released Monday, planting progress is now only 8 percentage points behind the five-year average, an average that includes last year's blistering 95% planted rate.
Using USDA's 97.3 million acre corn planting projection, DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom estimated more than 41.8 million acres were planted last week.
Dean Werries said planting comes faster these days with larger equipment and technology such as auto guidance that makes the work less grueling. "Some days are better than others, but we can generally get 425 acres planted in a day," Dean said.
Comparing that to prior years isn't as easy as it sounds. The farm now uses a 24-row planter, compared to a 16-row planter in previous years. The use of starter fertilizer slows the process some, though, because of time required to refill tanks.
The Werries farm is participating in a GroundBreaker trial for Monsanto's FieldScripts program this year. FieldScripts is a prescription planting system that bases plant populations on soil type and tweaks over-all planting practices. However, the farmers have been headed down that path for several years.
"Because of all the guidance equipment and the feedback from our 20/20 precision monitor, we are now planting slower -- 4.5 miles per hour (mph) compared to 5.5 mph in earlier years," Dean said. On the other hand, they've shaved time by using mostly refuge-in-a-bag products this year, which eliminate the time-consuming process of planting a separate insect refuge. The Werries also use a strip-planting tillage system that lets them trim field operations and avoid time required for tillage.
"When the machinery company ads first came out claiming guidance systems reduced stress, I thought they were full of it," Dean said. "However, I now realize how grueling it was to keep looking over your shoulder and monitor planting operations the old way."
The permanent tracks saved are especially helpful in years like this, said John. "You can enter a field at night and actually know where you are. It allows us to safely and accurately run a whole lot more hours," he said.
"It's definitely less stressful," Dean said of new guidance technology. "You can concentrate on what the planter is doing rather than things like trying to plant a straight row."
It also frees his hands up to root and cheer Elisabeth's ball team on to victory from the tractor seat, too.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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