Friday, October 12, 2007

I wore out those old boots by now...

On the way into work this morning, I heard a story on the plight of corn farmers in Illinois on my local public radio station. It was all about how tough things are because everybody think’s they’re rakin in cash hand-over-fist due to the ethanol boom. And while some have done well this year, next year all their suppliers are hiking prices to try and get a piece of the action.

What struck me about the story was how the reporter mentioned that the farmer who was being interviewed was “having trouble with his GPS system”. Now, I understand that some of these farms can get pretty big, but really? A GPS system? Is it that hard to navigate from one row to the next? Sure, it might be harder to figure out whether a portion of soybeans had been harvester already, but corn’s pretty easy to figure out whether it’s been done already – either the stalks are 8 feet tall, or they are stubble. The whole thing seems kind of excessive to me.

Speaking of travels, because I’ve been doing so much for work lately that I’ve been slowly whittling down my “unvisited states map” that I did a few years back. Thanks to work, I can add most of New England and Nevada to my list. Delaware and Virginia were side trips taken during work, but I think they totally count, even if I was just driving through them. Here’s the new map! Woot!



Better yet is that I’ve already got trips coming up to Utah and Rhode Island in the next few months! Of course, my world map is still pretty vacant, but still – I’m pleased with my progress.

6 comments:

J.Po said...

Hey - nice new look!

Spice said...

You know where you can use a really handy application to track where you've been? Facebook!

towwas said...

Yep - then you can compare it to your friends' maps, too!

Also, driving through states totally counts. Good work.

J.Bro said...

Hey, I know all about farming-related GPS systems! Thanks, Dad!

They're coming as standard equipment in a lot of new tractors - not to prevent getting lost on the way to the back forty, but to use once the tractor gets to the field.

There are two main early stages in planting corn (excluding applying pesticide) - planting the seeds themselves and culivating the rows once the plants are around 6" tall. The old-skool way to plant straight rows is with a side-extension that hangs a small disc off either the right or left side of the planter (depending on the direction you're driving) and is exactly half the planter's length. When the farmer turns around at the end of the field, he then has to line up a small silver arrow on the tractor's nose with the line the disc dug, which puts the next 8, 16, or 32 rows of corn parallel and equidistant from the last 8, 16, or 32 rows.

Culivating is even more an exact science, since there's no side-extension to help. A culivator looks like a medieval torture device, full of discs and teeth to break up the soil in between the rows of baby corn plants, which allows more oxygen to get to the roots and kills weeds. Rows of corn are generally 18"-24" apart (depending on how aggressive the farmer is being), which means accidentally steering the tractor 9-12" left or right will take out however many rows wide the culivator is (generally 32). So, twelve hours a day for the couple weeks it takes to culivate an average-sized farm, the guy driving the tractor pulling the culivator has to drive with white knuckles. I've done it for short stretches before, and it's no fun at all.

Here's where the GPS units come in. During the planting stage, all they do is record the position of the planter (and, thus, the rows of seeds) - the farmer still uses the side-extension to mark the next trip. Culivating is where the GPS is invaluable. The guy in the tractor loads the recorded field map and gets help culivating from GPS satellites. It doesn't drive the tractor (although Dad says they're experimenting with it), but it has beeps and whistles and an in-dash display that shows the culivator going off-course by just an inch.

So, for the farmer in the story, who I would guess has been using GPS for most of the couple years they've been available, I imagine that going back to white-knuckle culivating *was* a pretty exhausting prospect.

J.Bro said...

Wow, what a ridiculously long comment.

grrrbear said...

Wow, J.Bro, that's actually really interesting, thanks! It's sure to be only a few years before Autobots are harvesting all America's food.

Decepticons? They'll be harvesting opium for the terrorists.