Saturday, May 24, 2008

Check Row Planters

Corn planting has been in full swing. Many modern corn planters plant 16 rows at a time and some of the most modern planters use the Global Positioning System [GPS] technology to keep their rows straight. Technological advances are ever present in agriculture.

About 1890 one of the technological advances was planting corn with a two row check planter which was pulled by horses. This type of planter was manufactured from 1890 to 1941 and was used well into the 1950’s only by then farmers or the manufacturer had converted them to be pulled by tractors.

On Saturday May 17, 2008 the Heritage Center Farm Field at Homestead National Monument was planted to corn using a John Deere two row check planter that had been manufactured between 1908 and 1910. About 20 to 25 people watched as Gary Higgins used his team of horses and two row check planter. Mr. Higgins was assisted by Glen Brinkman and Ranger Jesse Bolli who moved the “trip wire.”

The “trip wire” which has knots in it every 42" was strung across the field. The wire was fed through a lever and rollers which are attached to the planter. When a knot hits the lever, the lever is pushed down and the corn is dropped.

The rows planted by a two row check planter are 42" apart and a hill of corn is planted every 42" with usually 4 or 5 seeds per hill. Cultivating [tilling the soil between the rows to remove the weeds] could occur with the rows and across the rows in a checker board pattern. The rows had to be 42" apart to allow the horse to walk between them to cultivate and harvest. Today, the corn rows are 30" apart.

In order to keep the rows straight a marker arm drags in the dirt creating a furrow to be used to center the planter on for the next trip across the field. Today, a few farmers are using the GPS technology, but most still use the marker arm with a single disc on the end to mark where to go next and keep their rows straight.

The planting that occurred at the Homestead Heritage Center on May 17 took about 2 hours to plant 1 acre of corn. About 10,000 to 15,000 kernels of corn were planted. Modern farmers with 16 row planters, on average, plant about 13 acres in an hour and about 30,000 to 40,000 seeds are planted per acre.

A good yield of corn planted using the two row check planter was about 60 bushel per acre with the average closer to 30 bushels per acre. Today 150 bushels per acre is average with some fields producing over 200 bushel per acre.

The two row check planter was amazing to some in 1890 just as using Global Positioning System technology in planting corn is amazing to some of us today.

In June, if conditions allow, Gary Higgins may be cultivating the corn at Heritage Center Farm Field at Homestead National Monument using his team of horses and late 19th or early 20th century technology. Look for an announcement.

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