Northeast Hosts Spring Planter Clinic

Published on: May 4, 2018

With the spring planting season just around the corner, a crop producer’s first inclination often is “full speed ahead.” Not so fast – especially on the first day of planting.

“This is one of the most important passes going through a field in the (cropping) season – and you get only one shot at it,” said Chris Burbach, a precision agriculture instructor at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

He and fellow instructors – Chance Lambrecht, precision agriculture, and Mike Zierke, diversified ag/mechanized ag -were recently involved in the College’s Spring Planter Clinic. Site was the indoor arena of the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex on campus where several seed beds had been prepared for planting.

Since 2016, members of Central Valley Agriculture Cooperative’s (CVA) Advanced Cropping Systems Team have annually conducted the clinic using its specially designed six-row planter. The initial clinic was a first of its kind for CVA, as well as Northeast students.

Keith Byerly, precision agriculture manager at CVA, said, “The overall focus of the clinic is to try to slow down that first day of planting on the farm. That’s when reality hits home on the farm, when things are going a ‘million miles’ an hour.”

Lambrecht said, “With today’s narrow economic margins, you have to be a more efficient farmer to survive. Times are tough.”

During the recent clinic, the students were engaged in identifying various planting problems, as well as troubleshooting these problems.

“This clinic is an opportunity to see the pieces (involved in planting) separated and get a slow-motion view of how it comes together,” Byerly said. “We want to slow things down, so the students can connect the dots in a real-world situation before they get home (to help plant fields this spring).”

The clinic, Burbach said, “stresses to the students the importance of planting in optimal conditions – and patiently waiting for those conditions to occur.”

Three agricultural majors (from left) at Northeast Community College in Norfolk and precision agriculture instructor Chris Burbach listen as Keith Byerly with Central Valley Ag discusses potential problems when planting into compacted soil. CVA staff recently conducted the third annual Spring Planter Clinic at the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex on the Norfolk campus for ag students and the public. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)

The students rotated every 20 minutes among four stations, including planter maintenance, as well as comparing and identifying parts of a new 12-row high-tech planter owned by the College, with a four-row planter from the 1970s; hands-on work with seed meters; and examining the uncovered seed trenches after planting into four seed bed conditions: too wet, powdery and dry, heavily compacted and ideal.

The clinic also included learning fertility basics and a presentation by a CVA Advanced Cropping Systems Team member sharing results of past test plots involving CVA at the Northeast farm.

As an industry partner with Northeast, Byerly said CVA has done on-farm research at the College farm for three years and has been involved in the classroom for more than a decade.

Each station was manned by a CVA representative and a Northeast ag instructor.

Zierke said, “By having CVA come in with their technology, we, as instructors, can keep current with technology. With that knowledge, we have a better understanding of what’s out there and available.”

As planting progresses in a field, Lambrecht said units installed with computerized sensors record “thousands of readings,” including soil temperature, furrow moisture and percentage of organic matter. On-the-go management decisions can immediately be made or the data can be downloaded onto a flash drive for use on a home computer, he said.

Lambrecht helped man the seed meter station.

“The heartbeat of the planting operation is the meter,” he said. “If it’s not performing properly, it is costing the producer money.”

Zierke said inputs need to be maximized during planting to be profitable, in turn, maximizing what the plant and soil are capable of.

But even with the most sophisticated technology and equipment, a producer needs to be aware of such basics as regular maintenance and proper equipment adjustments. Also key, Zierke said, is a pre-planting check of all parts of the equipment and fine-tuning them for optimal performance.

Weather and schedules permitting, Northeast ag students will be involved with upcoming plantings on the College farm.

Byerly said, “These students are the future of agriculture, whether the next generation of producers or agronomists; one might be a geneticist who discovers something major.”