Planter Makeover

August 24, 2012 08:48 PM

Family receives a boost through Project Fresh Start

There are some songs that take you back to a special moment. For Robin Goessling, it’s "My Maria" sung by Brooks and Dunn. In the spring of 1996, that tune was streaming through the radio as she videotaped her husband, Ralph, planting the first few acres with their brand-new John Deere 1780.

"Later when we played the tape, the song so perfectly matched the emotions of the day that Ralph named the planter ‘Maria’ and had it painted on the frame on the planter. From then on the machine was referred to as Maria," Robin says.

Just a few short years later, the mood turned somber as the Goessling family faced one challenge after another. In an effort to give a farmer with extraordinary circumstances an extra boost, Farm Journal partnered with Precision Planting to orchestrate a planter makeover. In the winter of 2011, the Goesslings were chosen as the recipients of Project Fresh Start.

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New in 1996 (top) and like-new again in 2012, the Goessling family’s planter received an overhaul from the inside out, complete with Precision Planting seed meters, planting monitor and row cleaner control system.

"Cindy and I have been very fortunate, and it’s always been important for us to give back," says Gregg Sauder, founder of Precision Planting. "With this program, we wanted to give special consideration to a farmer who has overcome a personal hardship."

Precision Planting pledged up to $75,000 to pick up the planter at the farm and transport it to the Precision Planting pit crew—to be completely refurbished from its hitch pin to its closing wheels.

The backstory. Ralph and Robin started dating as teenagers, married and raised their three children in southern Wisconsin near Whitewater. Together, they operate a family farm and trucking business.

"Our lives were like other farmers’—ups and downs. But one of our biggest challenges came in 2004 when the Wisconsin Department of Transportation decided to build a highway over our farmstead," Robin explains. "This threatened the home where Ralph was born and raised and where we raised our three children. Ralph, being Ralph, couldn’t bear to lose his home and barn, so we picked them up and relocated our farmstead a mile south on our property. It took years, but this is home now."

Despite back-to-back flooding in 2008 and 2009, the family prevailed.

"Between rebuilding the farmstead and the two years of bad weather, it seemed there was never enough money to do all the repairs that were needed. We were getting tired, but Ralph always said his glass was half full, never half empty. We were looking forward to 2010 and hopefully what was going to be a good year," Robin says.

Then, the family encountered what Robin refers to as "the nightmare," which occurred New Year’s Eve 2009 while they were at a dance.

"We danced, he loved to dance, and boy, could he dance," Robin says of Ralph that night. "Then he sat down next to me. As I was looking into his eyes, I thought he wanted to say something to me. But, he never spoke again."

That night, Ralph passed away right in front of his high school sweetheart.

As spring neared, Robin and her children looked forward to planting season with hope, but the challenges weighed heavy. Son Luke had never run the planter before. He and his father split machinery operation by season, and he ran the combine.

"I watched Luke study the manual trying to figure everything out. Then finally he was ready," Robin recalls. "He drove past the house on his way to the field. He looked at me, shrugged and waved. I know his dad was looking down smiling."

A fresh start. The family persevered without Ralph’s experience, but it was apparent that they, along with their beloved planter, Maria, were tired.

"Ralph was what a husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend should be. His passion for his family and life never wavered, so we will not waver," Robin says.

Robin nominated the family in early 2011 for the Project Fresh Start planter makeover. Based on her heartfelt letter to Farm Journal, the family was chosen, and Maria was given more than just a facelift—although the planter was given a custom automotive quality paint job.

The Precision Planting team combed the machine from front to back and replaced all of the worn parts.

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Before their inaugural run in 1996, Ralph Goessling (above) spent time learning the ins and outs of his John Deere 1780 planter. Today, the planter (below), fondly named Maria, is still integral to the family’s Wisconsin farm operation. Left to right: Eric and Lana Kropf; Dave, Stella, Nina and Tessa Schmocker; Robin Goessling; Hank, Brandi, Rudy and Luke Goessling.
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"One complete fertilizer coulter was replaced, and we replaced all the double disc openers and closing wheels," explains Dustin Blunier with Precision Planting. "We learned a lot about the wear and tear that particularly starter fertilizer does to the planter."

The company also outfitted the planter with its eSet meters, 20/20 SeedSense monitor, CleanSweep row cleaner control system, and 20/20 Air Force down force control system. They had a webcam set up so they could broadcast the progress of the project.

In the spring of 2011, Maria returned to the field for planting.

As is the case when changes are made to any planter, there were a few kinks—some minor, some major—to iron out during planting. Some of the challenges came from rerouting all of the wiring and air hoses to accommodate the Precision Planting equipment. Also, since the John Deere 1780 12/23 was only produced for a limited time, resources were limited to understand its complexities.

Although Luke and Ralph had researched Precision Planting products, their planter had never been outfitted with any of the company’s components. It was also Luke’s first time to operate equipment with GPS monitoring, so he was learning as he went.

"We are diving into technology with the new Maria," Luke says.

By the spring of 2012, with a little more expertise on Luke’s end and shop time from Precision Planting, Maria was running better than ever.

"This means so much more to us than just fixing a planter," Luke says.

Today, Luke and his mom run two trucking companies, one dump truck for construction jobs and the other, a semi line that hauls materials for ethanol plants. They also have been able to add acres to their farming operation, which means Maria has even more room to run.

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