For someone who was too young to truly understand what was happening when Interstate 65 was built and came within a few hundred feet of his grandfather's farm, a trip near Washington in Daviess County last week was enlightening. From all accounts, it looked like the clock was turned back nearly 50 years. But instead of turning farmland into roadways for Interstate 65 between Indianapolis and Louisville, these crews are cutting a wide swath, creating what will be a leg of I-69, connecting Indianapolis with Evansville. Technically, I-69 will run all the way from Evansville to East Lansing, Michigan, although it requires going around Indianapolis on I-465.
Road closures during construction are already becoming a way of life for farmers there. Some know which roads they can slip through the barricades on because they're not yet really under construction, and which they can't. But soon big equipment will be moving, and it will have to detour around the construction. It's tough to pull a 24-row planter through offset barricades, even if the planter is folded up.
For some this spring, they will be planting point rows in what was until now square or rectangular fields with straight rows and straight field edge borders. Point rows when there was four-row equipment were bad enough. Now the planter that goes to that field will be 24-rows. If there's a saving grace, at least economically, it's that new features made possible through precision farming will allow rows to shut off in pairs as they reach an area that they've already planted. The same technology also applies to sprayers and even anhydrous ammonia applicators. It doesn't take the sting out of spending much more time on that field than normal, but it should help hold down the cost typically associated with wasting inputs due to overlap on point rows. In the 1960's that meant overplanting $30 or $40 per bag seedcorn planted at 24,000 plants per acre. Today, it's a costly game with seed corn at $250 per bag and rates above 30,000 kernels per acre.
What's disturbing is to see that construction engineers have as much disregard for farm boundaries and field borders today as they did in the 1960s. It's the angle of the road that counts, not what it might do to the land left behind. And two things are true- that road will be there forever, and so will the point rows. Even if the farmer received some extra compensation for the inconvenience when he sold his land to the state, how do you accurately compensate for inconvenience and perhaps the inability to use future technology 40 years down the road when you're figuring what's it's worth to trade straight rows for point rows today?
Some things haven't changed in 50 years.