Smooth sailing in spring | Tire ruts in muddy fields this fall won’t disappear on their own and can be hard on equipment
Manufacturers are switching their focus from moisture conservation implements to full-tilt tillage tools as waterlogged fields become the muddy new norm rather than the exception.
In response to farmer demand, Sunflower introduced two new implements in September: the 6650-48 vertical tillage tool and two split-wing 1436 disc harrows.
Dennis Lewallen, chief engineer on both cultivator projects, said there are valid reasons why farmers are adding tillage implements to their equipment lineups.
The bottom line is that zero tillage has inadvertently created four distinct problems for farmers that only tillage can fix:
“We’re seeing a lot more herbicide problems,” Lewallen said.
“More weeds are becoming resistant to chemicals, so some form of tillage is necessary.”
Weed specialists in the northern Great Plains states and across the prairie provinces are nearly unanimous in their belief that glyphosate was too easy to use and farmers came to rely on it too much. Herbicide resistance is the ugly result.
Many regions have had almost a decade of above-average rainfall, but some farmers are still adjusting to the idea that they should do everything possible to conserve soil moisture. Those waterlogged fields need tillage to dry the soil.
Tire ruts have become another big factor because of the mud, and tire ruts don’t take care of themselves.
However, it’s not only muddy conditions that call for surface tillage. Depending on soil type, long-term zero till fields can develop a rough surface that’s hard on sprayers and combines.
Many zero-till producers are beginning to realize that the frost they once figured would break up soil compaction isn’t doing the bang-up job they assumed it would.
Lewallen said the latest generation of shallow working tillage tools are designed to address these problems. They get into the top layer to kill weeds, smooth out wheel ruts, break up shallow compaction, dry things out a little and warm the soil quicker than leaving trash cover on the surface.
“Matching our new tillage tools to those 500 horsepower and 600 h.p. tractors is also very important in what we do,” he said.
“If you have a $500,000 tractor, you need to work it to the optimum level to make optimum use of your investment. If your implements are too small, you’re wasting the money you spent on the tractor.
“Implements are getting bigger, but transport dimensions are supposed to be getting smaller. And implements travel a lot more than ever before, going from one field to another field on the same farm, so we have to make them narrower and keep them lower, and that’s a real challenge.”
Shipping from factory to farmgate is another consideration for engineers because today’s large tillage implements are too big to ship fully assembled.
Lewallen said they need to be designed so that they can be manufactured in pre-assembled modules at the factory and then bolt together when they reach their final destination. He said this bundling system also reduces the number of assembly mistakes at the final destination.
The 6650-48 vertical tillage implement has a true working width of 47 feet, 11 inches, which gives farmers the capability of covering more than 38 acres per hour, according to an Agco news release.
It folds into a transport package of 18 feet, two inches wide and 13 feet, 11 inches high.
Saber Blades are installed with the typical Sunflower staggered 18 degree offset gang arrangement in a five section, six by six inch frame. Agco says the residue left behind creates a surface that is resistant to wind and water erosion.
A hydraulic cylinder locks the hinge in the in-field working position. This permits the hinge to pivot only on the lower pivot point located close to the disc gang, which provides for a greater range of negative flex of the wing so the tool can closely follow changes in terrain.
“When it folds up into the transport position, it needs an offset hinge so it’s more compact. So the hinge transitions to the upper fold point. In the field, it transitions to the lower fold point,” he said.
“The other thing we’ve done for transport is let it ride on our walking triple system. That’s a walking beam with two pivot points and three tires. It flexes more going over humps and bumps on the road. It really smooths out the ride.”
Agco says this patented walking triple system is unique in agricultural implements.
When encountering a bump, the lead tire works with the second tire to complete the first walking tandem. As the implement rides over the bump, the second tire gradually becomes the lead tire for the second walking tandem.
As the second tire is elevated, a weight transfer removes the first tire from the sequence, and pivoting is then shared between the second and third tires. The system features greaseable tapered roller bearings.
The 6650-48 also features:
- 1.75-inch round stress-proof gang shafts
- triple-sealed, greaseable trunnion-style gang bearings
- offset C-Flex bearing standards
- a maintenance-free lift system with a 5.5-inch lift axle on all hydraulic lifts
Heavy-duty gauge wheels pivot on service-free, ultra-high molecular weight (UHMW) material that provides lifetime lubrication.
A long, narrow tongue permits tight turns and good field manoeuvrability. Convertible Category 4 and 5 hitches allow the 6650-48 to match any high-horsepower tractor.
Two larger split-wing models have been added to the 1436 tandem disc harrows lineup.
The 1436-33SW and the 1436-38SW both have up to 600 pounds per working foot of cutting and slicing weight. True working widths are 33 feet, three inches and 38 feet. They both feature 20 degree gang angles with full-concavity blades for good residue-cutting ability in B.t. corn residue.
The Agco release says the new harrows are intended to leverage the power of high-horsepower tractors to work more acres. The shape and geometry of the discs will mix residue and topsoil to enhance microbial decomposition of the stalks.
Front and rear gangs are offset from each other to allow the front gang to clear-cut the entire width of the soil profile.
The offset rear gang creates a feathering effect, which prevents ridge-valley profiles in the wake of the machine. Both sets of gangs ride on C-Flex bearing standards to absorb the shock that is encountered when striking obstacles.
Each wing frame is designed to match the cutting width of the tool, allowing wheels and wing lift mechanisms to be located near the outer limits of the cutting area. This en-sures maximum control of the wing and level working orientation to the field.
The 1436-33SW has a transport width of 15 feet, six inches and a folded height of 13 feet. The 1436-38SW folds to 17 feet, 11 inches wide and 13 feet high.
The machines have a maintenance-free lift system riding on UHMW plastic bearings, UHMW wing hinge bearings, heavy-duty gauge wheels that pivot on UHMW bearings, single-point depth control mounted on the front for simple adjustments and a hydraulic depth lock.
Farmers also have their choice of three finishing reels: 11-inch- and 14-inch-diametre flat-bar for aggressive clod crushing or the 14-inch-diameter chevron for soil compression.