Three meetings were on my schedule within a week's time recently. One was a Precision Planting workshop at Bruce Weibel's farm near Remington. Ken Sauder of Precision Planting spent three hours in a special tricked-out semi-trailer that looks like a showroom demonstrating how a change here and a change there in your planting operation can add up to real efficiency, more yield and more profit.
The trailer was nearly full for a morning session and afternoon session. A big steak lunch probably didn't hurt the draw, but by questions asked, most people were there to learn. They wanted to know how they could adjust the equipment they had to do a better job. They were also interested in what kind of high-tech tools were coming down the road that might help them be more profitable in the future.
For Precision Planting, there are two new products under wraps in beta testing: Delta Force, a downpressure control system that goes beyond Air Force and provides individual row correction for downforce changes, and a Precision Planting yield monitor, touted to be considerably more accurate because of design changes where the grain is metered than any models currently on the market. Don't expect to see these commercially until 2014.
The next day at the other end of the state, near Evansville, the discussion was all about precision agriculture. I walked out wondering if varying the rate of seed corn pays, believing varying soybean rates and lime pays, and convinced that money spent on upgrading a planter to allow row shut-off and less wasted seed, plus auto-booms to shut off and avoid overlap on a sprayer, are no-brainers financially if you farm any amount of acreage at all.
I rounded out my educational week at Mike Starkey's in Hendricks County near Brownsburg. He conducted a planter clinic specifically for no-till in his shop. His first clinic two years ago drew 35 people. Last year he had 70 visitors. This year 150 crowded into the shop on a rainy day. They came to hear and see what Starkey and other farmers who no-till do to make no-till work with cover crops. How do you set up planters to handle the cover crops and make it all work? They also wanted to hear what Joe Nester, a long-time crops consultant who works in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, had to say.
How do you know if a meeting is successful? When it concludes at 2:30 and at least 12 groups of three or more farmers are standing around the shop engaged in conversations about what works and what doesn't, with another dozen people outside examining planters, it's a good thing. That's where information changes hands that can be put to use.
As one conservationist who often speaks at these meetings says, "I was glad not to speak today. Sometimes you need to come to these meetings and just listen to what others are saying and think. If everyone who advises farmers, including retail dealers and even Extension educators, had a chance to just sit in a farmer meeting in the back of the room and hear farmers talk to one another about what works and doesn't work, it would be a good thing."
Sounds like a plan to me. That's how I learn. Hopefully I'm able to pass some of it on to you. After all, not everyone can be at every meeting. Oh, by the way, find time to be with your family when you get home from the meetings. Christmas is around the corner.
That said, the meeting season is just firing up, and there's lots to talk about, from new technology to weed control of tough weeds to farm bill debates. Here's the challenge. Pick out at least three meetings you think are worth attending this winter because of what you will learn, not just because of the free lunch you'll get, and go listen. You just might come away with something more valuable than a free lunch.