The Rookie Corn Planter

As I eased into the padded seat of the John Deere® 3020 tractor with a four-row planter, I placed both hands on the steering wheel, more at 9 and 3 than 10 and 2, feeling nervous, excited and confident. Warren, my farmer host, hopped up on the wheel seat and quickly explained each part of the tractor.

There were four levers and a couple pedals on each side. On the right, a wide pedal wasn’t just one brake; it was for the left and right, whatever that meant. Warren pointed out the clutch on the left of the steering column. I hadn’t heard the term “clutch” in 15 years, when some friends, for some reason, drove stick shifts.

This was the first time I was going to drive a tractor and plant a crop, and my confidence in doing both was quickly eroding.

“Press the clutch, turn the key and then take your foot off the clutch,” Warren said.

I abided, but pulled my foot off the clutch too quickly. That action caused the tractor to jerk forward, surprising Warren. But he held on, leading me to believe I wasn’t the first person he instructed on driving tractors.

Today’s tractors have GPS and autosteer. This tractor did not. Just about everything on it required human interaction. And this was probably a high-tech tractor for 1965.

Going to Work

After a quick reset, the tractor was rolling. It’s a nice, easy and free feeling driving a tractor. Heading off to do some work. The furthest thing from my mind was my desk job. And I liked that feeling.

We arrived at the small area where we would plant sweet corn. When we arrived at the field, we had to jump off the tractor, get a measuring tape to ensure our rows were properly spaced, and use a three-foot stake to mark the center of the four rows. The stake served as the center point when I drove. We placed another stake about 100 feet away.

We checked the planter boxes one more time to double check the sweet corn seed. Then I hopped back into the tractor seat. This time, I handled the clutch-to-driving transition much better.

Warren told me to use a small piece of raised metal on the end of the tractor hood to line up with the first stake. “Knock it over, you won’t hurt anything,” he said.

The Seed Hits the Ground

Once I hit the first stake, I had to turn my attention to the stake 100 feet ahead. But I also needed to look back to make sure the planter is planting the seed. It looked like it was working, so I turned back to driving. I was already off course from my stake. I hadn’t expected such a slight move on the driving wheel to guide the tractor off line.

It’s hard to imagine farmers used to plant and harvest crops like this.

I looked forward and concentrated on the other stake for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, Warren was checking our seed planting so that I could focus on planting straight rows. The whole trip took about 90 seconds. I planted 100 feet of four rows of sweet corn, and it was such an exhilarating experience. I wanted to do more. I think I could have planted 10 acres that day.

Warren invited me out to check on the corn throughout the summer. Sweet corn is picked by hand here, so no more tractors for me this year, unless there’s another farmer out there who doesn’t mind a rookie tractor driver….

This post originally published on Beyond the Rows, a blog by Monsanto Company.

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