Tillage tactics take centre stage at Ontario event

RIDGETOWN, Ont. — Three Ontario agronomists described six tillage strategies at the Southwest Agricultural Conference here Jan. 4.

Greg Stewart with Maizex Seeds and Alan McCallum with McCallum Agronomic Services were at the event. Peter Johnson with Real Agriculture was included in video presentations.

Six farmers with six different pieces of equipment were introduced.

First up was Mark Comley, who farms near Ancaster.

He described his Ontario-built Salford I-1200 as a “quasi vertical tillage” unit with its coulters, shanks, tines and trailing packer. It can be used with the shanks either up or down, working up to four inches into the soil profile, according to Salford literature.

Comley said he runs it at around 12 km-h with the shanks up and eight km-h with the shanks down on his heavier soils. The only time he runs with the shanks down is in the fall and then only to a modest depth on soybean stubble.

One concern may be the small amount of residue left after fall tillage on bean ground.

Next up was Dan Shantz from the Kitchener area with his Amazone Catros.

On corn stubble, he runs the unit fall and spring, using a shallower depth in the spring. After wheat and cover crops, he may not use it at all or make a single spring pass before planting. Soybeans are no-tilled.

“It’s worth about $100,000. It’s the only tillage machine I have,” Shantz said.

Soil surface residue is significantly reduced with the Amazone. According to an audience comment, it works on heavier ground, as well as the loamy soil that Shantz works.

Steve Broad near Woodstock described his Sunflower Coulter Chisel Plow with its twisted shovels that run to a depth of six to seven inches. It requires a chopper on the combine corn head to keep the unit from plugging.

“If I create a problem with compaction, I’d rather create it at six to seven inches than at 10 to 12.”

Broad runs the unit in the fall after corn, following up with one or two cultivation passes in the spring. Close to 30 percent residue is left over the winter.

McCallum said there appears to be a resurgence in this type of tillage technology in Elgin. Farmers feel they can get the same results with less horsepower.

At Mount Elgin in Oxford County, Duane Paton talked about his CIH Disc Ripper, which has the most aggressive action of all the tillage units described. Due to the vegetables in his rotation and spring flooding, Paton said his land needs to be worked deep at least once every three years.

The leading rippers can be set from “six inches to deep, deep,” Paton said.

On corn ground, the unit is operated in the fall, with adequate residue left at the soil surface. Paton likes to no-till his soybeans.

Some serious horsepower is needed to pull the unit. Paton uses a 440 horsepower tractor to pull 16 to 17 feet but said a 330 h.p. tractor would likely work as well.

He’s been using the same unit since 1998 and some of this neigh-bours have bought into the system, he said.

The most unusual piece of equipment featured during the session may have been the Curse Buster operated by Carl Brubacker near Arthur. It’s reputed to support soil health and reduce fertilizer re-quirements.

Brubacker estimated today’s price for a 15-foot unit would be about $70,000. It requires about a 200 h.p. tractor.

“We use it for everything. It works very well after a plow,” he said.

The rotating tines of the Curse Buster penetrate to about eight inches. It leaves plenty of residue on the soil surface. Brubacker likes to apply liquid manure in its wake.

The final piece of equipment described was a Great Plains Turbo Till operated by Dave Durham near Dutton in Elgin County, who works variable soil types.

“Nothing is perfect but this seems to give me what I need on all types of soil,” he said.

The vertical-tillage coulter systems works the ground to a depth of up to two inches and incorporates enough residue so that the soil is warmed for planting. Durham runs it after wheat in the fall and after corn and beans in the spring.

Good tile drainage is necessary, Durham said, adding, “If you can’t afford to drain it, you can’t afford to buy it.”

Operation at 19 km-h provides a fun ride for operators who enjoy a bit of speed. Durham said he’s had some excellent results with the unit following heavy clover cover crops.

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