One pass conversion: turning bush row into a flower bed

Farmer puts SFM grinder-mulcher to the test on bush rows and stone-littered fence lines

The time lapse between putting a dozer blade to the bush and pulling your air drill into that new field can be three costly years; or more.

There is an up-front investment in clearing new land, with payback some ways off over the horizon. Along the way, one of the only things that grows on this new land is interest on the investment.

When Ryan Huber cleared two sections of poplar, three years passed between the time he started slashing trees until he put his drill into the new fields.

The Lipton, Sask., farmer says the experience sent him looking for a quicker way to convert bush into cropland.

He thinks he’s found it.

Huber says he was happy to have GB Equipment demo their SFM grinder-mulcher on his farm this summer.

“It’s (SFM) slow but it’s amazing. It makes one pass and all the prep work is done. Simply amazing,” states Huber in a phone interview.

“We didn’t have many stones where he did the demo, so we hauled in some two-foot rocks and put them into the bush row. We had rowed it with the Cat and we’d left the stumps and roots in the ground.

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“This machine Sylvain brought is so slow. But it’s final. It turns the rocks into tiny pebbles. You can come into this old bush row now and plant a flower garden after one pass. You could bag the soil and sell it.”

Huber says he’s considering buying one of the grinders, mainly for bush rows. He wastes a lot of time digging pits with the track hoe, using the Cat to push bush row debris into the hole, then finding soil for the top.

He says that works fine if you have enough hollows or sloughs, but if you’re on flat land, you end up with mounds on your fields. He has been using a heavy Wishek bush disc, which he runs over new land twice after the Cat is done. He runs it deep, right down to the spools. But it does nothing to deal with stones and stumps.

“We’re clearing new land and we’re taking out a lot of tough bush. There’s old bush rows because somebody had already cleared it once and then left it to grow back. That makes it really hard. I want to try burning those old bush rows, spread whatever is left, and then go in with one of these grinders and till everything once. I think we need to work it down to a full one-foot depth so you get those roots.

“But it’s really not ready for seeding like people think because the grinder leaves such a perfectly soft fluffy seedbed. It’s unbelievable. You really have to come back with a (Degelman) ProTill to pack it down.

“We’re not just clearing new land. We’re in the midst of cleaning up old fence lines and road allowances that are full of stones and wire and brush and posts. We use a cat and a track hoe. We bury most of it, and that works OK until it settles, then you have to come back and somehow fill it up. Or frost starts pushing the rocks back up to the surface.”

Huber says the demo machine ran down some old fence lines, where it gobbled up rusty barbed wire, leaving it in little shreds. When it encountered newer barbed wire, the wire wrapped around the cylinder and had to be cut with a bolt cutter. But it decimated everything else in its path.

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Huber says it’s typical for a farmer to lose three crop years while putting new land into production.

About 15 years ago, he hired Bear Slashers from northern Alberta to clean two sections of bush with a high-speed wood grinder.

“They did a good job of what they do on the oil leases. They take off the top of the bush. They just skim the surface. Their slasher took down all the trees just fine. I thought it was great until spring when the dirt settled and we saw all the roots and rocks,” he said.

“It was three more years of work before we could seed a crop. The ideal combination would be the Bear Slasher machine first, then follow up with the grinder. Theoretically, you should take the trees down and let them set there to dry for six months. Because you still get some bigger chunks when the trees are still green.”

While in the area, GB Equipment did a demo for the rural municipality, in which they ran their STC road maintenance grinder on a thousand yard stretch of grid road. The machine made three passes, one down the middle and one down each side. They ran it down to a depth of about one foot, breaking up any rocks that might eventually work their way up to the surface. The grader was then able to easily work the freshly crushed gravel and re-shape the road to specification.

For more information, contact Huber at 306-336-2252.

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  • old grouchy

    Having frown up in homesteading country (NW AB) I don’t remember most anyone taking 3 years to get bush land into production. Two years was considered normal and very occasionally (more for rough pasture and for greenfeed production) something was
    seeding in the first year. There were companies that specialized in this process and one did 30 to 36 sections per year for many years.
    When looking for this kind of information it might be more productive if one went to where this was ‘normal’ (through the 60s to at least the 90s) rather than talking to those that only occasionally do/did this kind of work.
    I’ll bet I’m not the only one who remembers the process!