The only good part of this story is the area of the field where I finished planting soybeans in the dark the other night is way removed from the road, houses and anything else but coyotes, deer and raccoon. If they want to laugh at my screwy planting pattern, more power to them.
The situation came down to this. Rain was in the forecast. I was going to run close on seed but could have enough to finish the field. But it would take me about a half hour past dark to finish. No problem, I thought. I'd done that before.
But when I did it before, I was no-tilling into stalks that weren't disturbed. The planter has markers, but the mark isn't always easy to see. Sometimes it lines up close to a row, and where the marker ran compares in appearance to a row mashed down by the combine tire last fall. What makes it doable is that I can tell off to the right where I made the last pass because the stalks and winter annuals, if present, are disrobed.
This particular night, I was in a field where we had tried a vertical tillage tool. It made the seedbed more consistent, and still left almost as much residue as if it was no-tilled, only in smaller pieces. During the day, picking up the mark wasn't harder- sometimes it was easier. But at night, when the mark was hard to see, there was no good guide off to my right. Picking out what's planted in dark soil from what's not when there are no stalks disturbed is tough.
So tough that I'm certainly glad the field is isolated. I had to move seed to empty boxes twice, thank goodness for monitors, but the second time was likely because I was running over what I had already planted, just to make sure I had planted it. Between moving seed and getting of to see where I was, it took an hour past dark to finish.
GPS would have made the whole problem academic. This particular tractor isn't equipped with GPS. If it was, I could have let it guide me. I wouldn't even have needed auto-steering- just guidance was all I longed for.
The only problem in that area is that WAAS, the free signal for differential correction, doesn't seem to be as accurate as in some other places. It's still within advertised limits, however. If you're planting corn and it drifts eight inches off on a pass, it becomes a problem. If you're drilling beans in 15-inch rows and combining with a grain head, it's not ideal, but less of a problem.
The moral of this story was that I decided not to plant after dark again. If you're going to run all night and you want to plant, I'm living testimony that accurate GPS is worth the money you spend for it. Straining to see marks that may or may not really be there is no fun!