Strip till drill simplified

Soil Warrior | Sometimes things need to get complicated before they get simple again

FARGO, N.D. — The complexity of the Soil Warrior might scare off a few producers, but the zone till seeder might catch their attention once they get over the intimidation factor.

Soil Warrior puts a sharp point on the fact that riding the cutting edge of any new technology is costly in terms of trial and error. It’s as true when placing seed and fertilizer into the earth as it is when putting men up on the moon. It’s costly.

However, the costly and complicated research and development can eventually turn into a simplified solution, says Craig Hiemstra of Environmental Tillage Systems.

He said that’s the story behind the ETS Soil Warrior.

“Over the years, we’ve seen that so many innovative farmers have had to build their own equipment from scratch because there’s nothing on the market to fit their specific needs. A lot of iron ends up in the scrap pile,” he said.

“Or, the other scenario is that guys are forced to adapt parts from three or even four different manufacturers to get the combination of components they want. They spend a lot of extra time and money needlessly, and they end up with this long unwieldy train of iron.”

Hiemstra said the Soil Warrior brings all that iron and technology together into a single co-ordinated machinery inventory, which can be customized to fit the specific needs of each individual customer at different points in time.

As a result, Hiemstra said there’s nothing haphazard or “add-on” about the Soil Warrior.

“We focus our attention on agronomy. The iron is there simply to support what we see as the best agronomic practices,” he said.

“We called it Soil Warrior because we want farmers to lead the charge and go out there and defend their land using good environmental practices.”

The company defines zone till as disturbing only one-third of the row width. That strip is cultivated intensively in the fall and lightly in the spring. Fertilizer is incorporated either in the fall or spring. The elevated berm of cultivated black soil is an ideal seed bed because it warms early in the spring.

ETS identifies six main benefits to leaving two-thirds of the row untilled and covered with residue:

  • Increased microbial activity, organic matter and soil tilth.
  • Natural mulching of soil between the rows.
  • Reduced soil erosion and water runoff.
  • Reduced fertility loss.
  • Untilled strips to plant into the following year.
  • Last year’s roots left for water infiltration.

Hiemstra said it’s difficult to pin-point the difference between the term “strip till” and the newer term “zone till.”

Nobody has yet come up with an official definition, but he said most people consider strip till as the process of cultivating a strip of black soil that takes one-third of the total row width. It can be seen as one-third of the field surface. The remaining two-thirds of surface area between the narrow black strips is not disturbed. The residue cover helps conserve moisture and reduce erosion.

Zone till, in his opinion, pertains to how farmers manages that black strip. Numerous options are available in the strip for cultivation, fertilization, weed control and planting.

In other words, strip till is the raised ridge of black soil while zone till is a management practice.

Some farmers practise “ridge farming” by planting in this same raised ridge every year, but most producers move the strip over each year.

Whatever version of strip till farmers choose, it’s an agronomic choice based on their own experience and soil management plan. However, no form of strip till, zone till or ridge till can be performed without the right equipment.

“Yes, the Soil Warrior is a precision ag machine, but it’s not the machine that’s important,” Hiemstra said.

“The machine is secondary to agronomy. Over the past decade, we’ve developed Soil Warrior into a complete system designed to help farmers get the most benefit from strip till farming.”

He said the idea of strip tillage isn’t new. It was a great idea initially, but operators had a hard time keeping the row units perfectly aligned within the black soil strips. Strip till finally became viable with the introduction of accurate and affordable RTK.

A strip till machine’s main job is to create the basic black soil strip, which is eight to 10 inches wide. Soil Warrior can work that soil strip down to a depth of 12 inches if that’s what the farmer wants to break up compaction or a deep plow pan layer.

Row unit options include equipment for anhydrous ammonia application, vertical liquid manure application, shallow cultivation, seed bed preparation, planting, seeding and rolling. The numerous options are engineered to quickly attach and detach from the main frame.

“You can deliver any form of nitrogen, (phosphorus) and (potassium) through your variable rate prescription map. With the (anhydrous ammonia) setup I have here today, we have 24 gauges because the customer wants to monitor his liquid (anhydrous ammonia) to each of the 24 runs,” Hiemstra said during the Big Iron show in Fargo earlier this year.

The display unit in Fargo was specifically equipped to meet one customer’s requirements, he added.

“Instead of the gas form, ammonia is delivered to the soil in a very accurate variable rate liquid form. It goes down into the soil and doesn’t convert until it’s safely packed. There’s no loss to the atmosphere.”

Hiemstra said 18 inches of vertical travel and pneumatic independent depth control on each row unit makes the Soil Warrior a strong combatant, able to withstand the abuse of any field conditions.

Individual depth control is the norm on today’s strip till machines. Soil Warrior has extra-long 18-inch vertical travel with parallel linkage, which allows the row units to perform their assigned task while avoiding equipment damage.

Rather than using springs or hydraulic dampening, the Soil Warrior employs pneumatic air bags, providing instant response to surface undulations. There are no shear pins or spring-trip devices.

“The air springs we install are just like the air bags in your over-the-road semi,” he said.

“Regulator controls in the tractor cab let the operator dial in pressures up to 90 pounds per sq. inch so he can keep the row units at the desired depth.”

ETS offers a shank option for farmers who want to use that type of system in their anhydrous setup. However, it strongly recommends using its 30-inch diameter rolling cog coulter instead. The shank goes down to a depth of nine inches, while the vertical tillage coulter goes down to six inches.

“Traditionally, with the shank, you end up lifting the rocks out of the ground,” he said.

“That disrupts the accuracy and the performance of whatever operation you’re doing. Plus now you have another big rock up on the surface to deal with. The shank is OK if you don’t have rocky fields. But if you’re running large diameter cog wheels, they climb up over the top of the rocks and push them down. A wheel doesn’t dig up the rock or try to pull it to the surface.

“In the cab, you can hear your coulters hitting the rocks. But when you look back, you don’t see any new rocks on the surface. And with 18 inches vertical travel, you can push them pretty deep and not hurt your equipment.”

Depth adjustment is provided by wide steel gauge wheels, which run just ahead of each row unit.

ETS said the steel rollers are trouble free compared to other types of gauge wheels. Although not intended to perform packing or seed bed preparation, they are tough enough to break up soil clumps and roll down other obstructions.

The iron tillage bits on the cog wheels are replaceable. The hubs all run in an oil bath. Soil Warrior is available in working widths up to 40 feet.

Maximum liquid fertilizer capacity is 2,200 U.S. gallons. Maximum dry fertilizer capacity is nine tonnes. Soil Warrrior can also be equipped with a swing pipe for injecting liquid manure.

A steerable cart option is available for keeping the row units exactly in line where producers want them. It’s compatible with John Deere’s steering system and the Trimble AgGPS True Tracker.

For more information, contact Hiemstra at 913-608-2370 or visit

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