Making more land from land you have

Farmland prices foster technology designed to grind stumps, trees and roots to help make land productive quickly

LANGHAM, Sask. — As North American farmland values continue climbing, farmers are eyeing areas where potentially productive soil remains covered by forest and scrub brush.

In regions like the prairie parkland, some of the best land is also the stoniest land, which explains why it remains in the natural state. The old low-tech slash-and-burn method is still employed, but that old D9 bulldozer method leaves nuisance bush piles and rows across the landscape.

The debris disrupts field operations for years, especially with today’s big equipment. The other economic factor is that slash and burn can cost years in lost crop production.

All this points producers toward the latest generation of big crushers, grinders, pulverizers and mulchers that can rip rocks and stumps buried a foot below the surface and grind them into dust and toothpicks. It immediately turns a patch of bush into a prepared seedbed.

One of the world’s largest and most innovative manufacturers in this arena is FAE of Italy. It builds crushers ranging from small skidsteer units to giant machines that turn mountains to molehills. There are two FAE distributors serving Western Canada: PrimeTech Shredding in Edmonton and GB Equipment in Quebec.

The price of farmland is perking interest in the land-clearing technology, according to Sylvain Benoit of GB Equipment.

Benoit attended the recent Ag in Motion to show off some of the latest FAE machines. He explained how most farmers today plan their land-clearing operation.

“First, the farmer sells off the wood for a profit, because it’s a shame to waste profitable timber or firewood. This helps offset your costs of clearing,” said Benoit.

“Now you’re left with branches, stumps, some rotten trees, roots and lots of debris that will get in the way of your farming equipment. To recover your investment, you need to put that field into crop as soon as possible, the very next planting season.

“One of the best machines for that is the SFM grinder. It’s designed mainly for farmers who have woodlands they want to convert into farmland.”

He said the SFM grinds all debris and the roots down to one foot deep and turns everything into fine organic material that will decompose in the soil.

“If you have stony soil in your woodlands, this machine is also a stone crusher, but not as good as our real stone machines. The SFM crushes rocks down to about two-inches in diameter.”

The SFM is engineered for 180 to 250 horsepower tractors. The p.t.o. drive shaft has a cam clutch, with 540 rpm or 1,000 rpm. Working width of the four models run from 71 inches to 99 inches. It smashes objects with one adjustable counter bar and two rows of bolted counter bars of forged steel.

GB Equipment also brings in four different high-speed mulchers and crushers engineered primarily for high-flow skid steer loaders in the range of 40 to 120 h.p.

These machines can tackle standing trees up to eight inches in diameter and chop them into fine mulch. They can be fitted with either knives or carbine hammers. The same working tools can installed on excavators and backhoes.

Benoit said FAE also builds five different shredder models for road maintenance, called Stone Crusher Machines (STC). These are the flagships of the FAE lineup, with power requirements ranging from 80 to 350 h.p.

STC units are heavier and more aggressive than required for land clearing and are mainly intended for municipalities and road construction companies. They can help earn their keep by doing extra duty with custom bush clearing when roadwork is finished.

“Let’s say you have a gravel road with ruts and rocks coming up. Instead of hauling in more gravel and using a grader, you take the STC machine for road re-conditioning. It digs 14 inches down into the gravel roadbed to crunch the big rocks from 12 to 15 inches diameter and makes them into nice gravel.

“The gravel can be as small as dust or big as 1.5 inches. Now the frost doesn’t bring up the rocks and the grader doesn’t bang the blade on the big rocks. So it saves a lot of money in road maintenance.”

GB has recently sold four units into Western Canada. In 10 months, PrimeTech Shredding has sold 23 units, many of which are doing custom work.

PrimeTech manager Dave Kwasanitza said in an interview that custom operators charge $350 to $450 per acre, depending on how stony the land is beneath the trees. Some custom operators also have a Tooth Fairy Fee, requiring the landowner to pay for broken teeth.

Kwasanitza suggests there’s an important time factor farmers should plug into their business plan if they expect to perform custom work. The season is quite long compared to other farm implements, such as combines and sprayers.

There are dozens of different FAE crushers suitable for land clearing. Prices for machines typically bought by farmers range from $55,000 to $150,000.

For more information, contact GB Equipment at 819-473-4862 or PrimeTech Shredding at 780-948-8882.

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