VIDEO: Speed and quality outrank size

LANGHAM, Sask. — The vertical tillage equipment introduced to Western Canada a decade ago evolved into the latest generation of high-speed compact cultivators. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Lemken has been at the forefront of these changes since 2006, but it says terms like vertical tillage don’t apply to its way of thinking about the way steel interacts with soil.

“We prefer to call it strategic tillage,” said Laurent Letzter, director of sales for Lemken Canada. Letzter was at last summer’s Ag in Motion show to demonstrate to farmers some of the things the Heliodor 9 could accomplish.

“We get asked quite often for a definition of vertical tillage, but there is not a clear answer to that, so we don’t use that term. We try to promote the idea of a strategy. The first question should always be, ‘what do you want to achieve with your soil?’

“Is there too much residue because of an exceptional crop? Are there glyphosate resistant weeds you can kill with tillage? Or maybe you have some fields you had to spray because they flooded out. Or bad tire ruts. Before you discuss a machine, you have to discuss the agronomic issues.”

Letzter said the wide range of options and adjustments on the Heliodor 9 means the machine can perform a wide range of tasks. He said the machine might not be used on every field every year, but it can be set up to perform a different task on each field.

Many growers now plant canola with a corn planter to attain optimal seed placement, but at the other extreme, some producers use their Heliodor 9 to seed canola in a year that’s too wet for their regular seeding rig. The Heliodor can also be coupled to the Lemken Solitair air drill to do seed bed preparation and seeding in a single pass.

“This machine has the capability to create an excellent seed bed down to 2.5 inches, so you can incorporate seed and work it down precisely to the depth you need,” he said.

“So you at least get a crop.”

The radical geometry of the discs is noticeable. The disc angle is 10.5 degrees to the soil surface and 16.5 degrees to the direction of travel. Penetration of the 20-inch concave discs is adjustable from two to five inches. Letzter said depth is one of the two main adjustments on the Heliodor. He said many people don’t understand that speed is the other adjustment that is often overlooked.

“Everybody is talking about high-speed cultivators, but I’m sorry, it’s not just a matter of going fast. Speed is one of your main adjustments. You have different impact on the soil at different speeds,” he said.

“You need a minimum speed of about four m.p.h. to cut the soil surface. That gives you a full cut, so then you can get into the cutting and mixing. But next you have the crumbling function, and that requires more speed. It won’t happen at four m.p.h. If you want good soil contact with the seed, you need a fine textured soil, so that’s where speed comes in.”

Lemken says the Heliodor easily works at speeds up to 12 m.p.h., but Letzter cautioned that working too fast can turn soil into light fluffy dust that’s easily eroded by wind or water. If that’s what you see when you get out to check, then you have to slow down.

Finding and adjusting to the right speed is all a matter of trial and error. You keep checking and adjusting.

Letzter thinks a lot of prairie farmers have had trouble accepting the concept of the European style high-speed compact disc cultivators.

“Farmers have been reluctant because the purpose of these machines hasn’t been explained. They weren’t properly introduced to the concept,” he said.

“For one thing, compared to conventional North American cultivators, the depth of all these machines is controlled by rollers at the back. The American machines are controlled by wheels in the centre, but they leave marks and compaction.

“Distance between the roller and the working tool in the ground is very short so you have very precise depth control. If you want to work at two inches, you need precise control.”

Manufacturers of high-speed compact cultivators always emphasize speed and quality of the finished job. They shy away from the most common question asked by prairie farmers: “what’s the biggest size you make?”

Letzter said he agrees that emphasis should be on quality of the work rather than on size, but then laughed and added, “our biggest one is 52 feet. That’s the biggest size on the market anywhere.”

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