Then and Now, Spring Planting


Spring planting has definitely advanced from the past. Amazingly the implement’s basic design hasn’t really changed as much. The modern planter still employs gears and chain drive propelled off the wheels just the same as older planters. Plates are still used to help determine seed population.  Modern planters have larger seed  carry capacities and other advanced technology. The biggest and most obvious change would be size.

The first mechanical planters were, more than likely, powered by horse. The guidance system was probably dead reckoning. This method of guidance is still used some with other farm tools to this day. Not every farmer can afford GPS system. Star wars technology is becoming more common though.

Straighter rows were achieved with the  advancement of simply a guide arm or marker on each end of the planter tool bar. The marker arm acted as a guide placement for the next pass. The farmer would center his tractor on the marked trench created by the arm thus determining the proper row spacing.

Row spacing has been changing throughout the years. When I was younger, the farmer I worked for planted a 36 inch row spacing. That was a common space and had been for some time. Row spacing was starting to narrow to 30 inch creating a better yield since the corn population increased because of more rows.  The farmer I worked for changed to 30 inch spacing in soybeans. It wasn’t quite as simple to change to 30 inch corn rows. During harvest a corn header that was designed for 30 inch was needed. They had a 36 inch header. Headers are expensive. Small grain headers are different designs and can take any row spacing. Smaller grain can be grown closer together. Our farm employed a drill for soybeans with a row spacing of a mere seven inches  Corn row spacing is common at 30 inches now. Some farmers are are growing crops closer together though.

My grandfather told me, years ago, about planters using wire strung across the field to determine seed placement. I was at a show recently discussing the “good ole days” and learned more about this technique. It’s no wonder the farmer of the day didn’t get obese. There was plenty of exercise getting on and off the tractor to move the wire.  Interestingly,  the seed was spaced within the row far enough apart that they culivated with the row and across it.

The planting machine has been evolving. It is increasing in size and row capacity. Once it was a small one or two row, doubling in size to four. Doubling again, and again, and maybe again. I remember tending an 8 row planter and that was a good size with a lot of work involved to plant. The grain company / farm I’m employed by now utilize two planters, a 16 row, and 24. Surprisingly the work tending the large planters has be come easier. It’s hard to believe, but there are bigger planters than that!

New technology came about to increase the planter seed carring capacity. A large seed tank and pushing the seeds to the row via air. Many companies picked up on this and the farmer began spending more time planting and less time actually filling the planter to plant.

Preperation tillage has changed in my time. The soil isn’t worked as much to a point of not at all. No till and modern chemistry has eliminated the need for mechanical weed removal. Some farm tools, like row culivators, are now just history. The mullboard plow isnt as commonly used now because of soil erosion.  It scares my old school type thinking of our agricultural dependancy on chemicals now.

My job, tending the planter, has become easier. Seed came in sacks and each row box had to be frequently filled. Back then tending the planter built muscle, just like handling hay bales. Soybeans where made easier with the use of a auger mounted under the door of a gravity flow wagon. The farm I worked used a John Deere A to move the bulk seed wagon and operate the hydraulic driven auger. Loading the planter boxes and the tank on a drill was made easy.

Now the seed gets delivered, to planters, from large seed boxes. There are special designed trailers that the boxes can be placed and unload into a auger conveyor.Screenshot_2018-05-08-11-17-58-1.png It’s now just a simple matter of starting a small engine, open a slide gate and the seed is loaded into the large planter tank. Little fuss and a lot less muscle! The seed corn sack hasn’t become a memory yet though. They still are around. The planter tender needs to know how to operate a fork lift. Also they need the skill to move a top heavy trailer swiftly but carefully to the fields from the storage warehouse. There is other means of tending the seed, the box method was the system, the grain farm/ elevator I work for employs.

GPS technology has made tillage more accurate and efficient. The planter marker is now becoming obsolete. Most planters still have them, but they don’t see much use now.


It was good to be involved with the spring planting again this year. This is my take on then and now….

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