Using GPS and a modified drill, neighboring farmers use less fuel, fertilizer

By TERENCE L. DAY

For the Capital Press

LEWISTON, Idaho -- With more than a dozen years of experience under their belts, neighbors Doug Stout and Jay Myers say direct seeding is still challenging them to learn and adapt, but it's also paying huge dividends in their operations.

The Genesee, Idaho, growers said that modifications they have made to John Deere's 1890 drill have paid off in their operations.

Stout farms 1,850 acres and Myers crops 2,400 acres on adjacent land.

"Every year it seems we are still having a mistake or two" with direct seed, Myers said, but the practice is still paying off with less fuel use, and "soil erosion is way down." He said with direct seeding he is using less than three gallons of fuel per acre, per year.

Myers said he switched from a Deere 455 drill to a Deere 1890 three years ago when he went to a three-year rotation. A modified 1890 was necessary to plant legumes.

"The benefits have been huge," Myers said, even though at times direct seeding doesn't out-yield conventional seeding.

He said direct seeding reduces the number of passes he makes over a field, reduces manpower and saves moisture.

Myers said weed control is the worst problem he experiences with direct seed.

Stout said he was slow coming to direct till.

"I held back and let others prove no-till" before jumping in, he said. "These things (drills) keep getting better. The technology out there is amazing.

Stout and Myers told the Capital Press they bought a basic 1890 drill and added an AgPro Box to handle legume seeds. They also made other modifications to adapt the system to their practices and field conditions.

Both farmers use global position systems in their operations. Stout said he has reduced overlaps from 10 percent to 2 percent, a savings of about 8 percent in the cost of liquid fertilizer applications.

"We paid for the system the first year," he said.

Myers said he invests about $5,000 a year in new GPS technology to keep up with advances.

"I don't ever want to fall behind," he said.

David Barton of North Star Guidance, based in Genesee, gave an overview of direct seed and GPS systems. He said each has advantages and disadvantages.

He cautioned growers to check out technical assistance promised with equipment. Some companies limit hours of the day and days of the week that assistance is available. Others may provide support, but the customer may be speaking to someone in Bangladesh, Sweden or England.

And sometimes there is a cultural gap between technical assistants and farmers. "Sometimes you call tech support and get somebody who has never seen dirt in their lives," he said.

They spoke at the annual ClearWater Direct Seeders breakfast.

Barton told the Capital Press that about 70 percent of growers in Asotin, Latah, Nez Perce and Whitman counties use GPS. "Almost everyone using direct seed uses GPS, but not everyone who uses GPS does direct seed," he said.

Some start with GPS with only a guidance system, then later become more integrated with auto-steering, application rate control and the ability to control rates by sections of the application boom.

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