Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeding Peas

This week our neighbour, L., was able to begin seeding his fields. He's started with peas, because peas are a "cool weather" crop. So here he is seeding the field across the road from us.

He has a new John Deere tractor, model 9630, 530 horsepower, the biggest tractor that John Deere manufactures. And, believe me, it's a monster. If you would stand next to one of those wheels, the tire would tower over you! There are four of those monster tires on that tractor, and there's a nifty little "step ladder" to take you up to the cab.

In the cab is a computer display that tells L. all sorts of information including: the fuel usage of the tractor; a picture of the field, showing the area already planted; and whether any runs (outlets) on the drill are blocked. The first time he takes the tractor around the field it records the location of the field exactly (via GPS) and outlines the boundary. Then it calculates the acreage precisely. With that information the computer can tell him moment by moment how much product he has used, how many acres he has left, and therefore how much more product he will need. When he finishes a field, he takes that information and enters it in his main computer at home. When he starts a new field, he tells the tractor computer which field it is, and he's all set to go.

The tractor operates on GPS, so he doesn't even have to drive it across the field. He only needs to do the turns from one row to the next. A switch operates a clutch that stops seeding during the turns. If he forgot to restart the seeding, that would show up on the screen.

Behind the tractor is a Flexicoil Air Drill, which is 60 feet wide, and plants 72 rows at a time, 10" apart, with a 3 1/2" spread to the row. The big silver object that brings up the rear of the procession is a Flexicoil Air Cart, which carries 430 bushels of seed and the fertilizer and "inoculant" that is used with peas. The "inoculant" helps the seed to sprout. (The pea seed that you buy for your garden has probably been treated with inoculant.)

You can imagine that equipment on this scale makes seeding go quickly. L. needs that, for sure, because he farms around 4,000 acres. This week he was fortunate. He seeded peas on Monday and Tuesday. Thursday evening we had about 1/3 inch of rain overnight. Enough to encourage the peas to sprout. Now we'll pray that we get more rain as the season progresses.

The passage of the equipment over the land creates an attractive pattern of swaths, each 60' wide. They show up as different colours in the field because of the reverse directions, much as different directions in the nap of velvet can create a subtle pattern of colour differentiation. I was going to snap a picture of it just now, but because the sun is in the west the variation is not visible. Perhaps tomorrow morning, when the sun shines on the field from the east, I can get a good shot to show you.

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