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Row cleaners

Stronger, healthier corn hybrids and certain soybean varieties, as well as increasing corn populations are creating more residue that takes longer to naturally decompose. And depending on where you're located, it can also be tied to climate.

“In northern climates, plant residue takes longer to break down than southern climates where you have more heat between harvest and planting,” says Precision Planting's Dustin Blunier.

To minimize interference from crop residue, growers are implementing residue management plans, some of which include row cleaners.

“Row cleaners are a significant part of the bigger issue of residue management,” says Blunier. “Residue in the trench around germinating seeds can be devastating to uniform emergence. Thus, the most important benefit of running a row cleaner is to remove residue.”

If you grow corn, Blunier says a properly set row cleaner will benefit just about every situation because not many fields are completely free of debris.

However, the biggest payoff is realized in high-residue situations.

“Corn on corn or minimum-till situations are good examples of when you have a lot of residue. Basically, the more residue in the field at planting, the greater the benefit from the row cleaner,” he says.

According to Blunier, whether or not to incorporate row cleaners comes down to the type of tillage you practice.

“What percentage of residue your tillage program leaves on the surface is going to be probably the biggest factor in how much of a need you have for row cleaners,” says Blunier. “If you have residue in and directly around the seed trench after the planter pass, you will suffer lower/uneven corn stands.”

To evaluate this, he says walk your fields now or during harvest to see if you have a lot of small-diameter stalks.

“These small-diameter stalks are from late-emerging plants that were most likely planted too shallow or had residue in the trench next to the seed,” he notes. “Even at harvest, you can still dig up the root-ball and tell if the seed was planted shallow or around residue. If the small-diameter plants appear to have been planted around residue, you would benefit greatly from properly set row cleaners.”

The next step is deciding between two types of row cleaners: fixed (rigid) and floating. How do you determine which is best for your fields?

“Simple,” says Blunier. “Select floating 90% of the time.”

He says, ideally, row cleaners should consistently ride on top of the soil, penetrating only deep enough to pick up old plant debris on and just below the soil surface.

“If they go too deep or heavy, they till the seedbed or row area and create a trench by pushing the soil out to the side of the row,” he says. “This can create uneven planting depth.”

Naturally, terrain plays a role no matter how well a field has been prepped or how flat you may think it is. That's where a floating row cleaner has the advantage over a fixed one.

“A floating row cleaner gives you the ability to flex across these changes where a fixed/rigid will plow through some areas and ride completely over the top of low spots,” Blunier says. “A fixed row cleaner set even at the ideal setting is still going to be an average setting.”

For example, he says it may be the right setting 60% of the time, but 20% of the time it will be too heavy (to varying degrees) and 20% of the time it will be too light (to varying degrees).

“With the fixed position, when you are heavy, the same amount of time that you are light, you are at the ideal setting,” he explains. “But in the above example, you are only at your correct setting 60% of the time. The other 40% of the time the row cleaner either isn't doing what it's designed to do or, even worse, creating other detrimental issues.”

Compared to fixed cleaners, Blunier says the floating row cleaner sets down a little lower or heavier to the ground and balances the resistance of the ground with the weight of the row cleaner to obtain a more uniform cleaning pressure.

Precision Planting has taken this a step further by creating CleanSweep. This dual-chamber air cylinder mounts on the row cleaner and allows the operator to increase or decrease the row cleaners pressure based on how aggressive the row cleaner needs to be to remove residue.

Row Cleaners

Dawn Equipment 815/899-8000

The Groundfx remote-adjust, floating trashwheel features drop-forged alloy steel trashwheels and support arms, polycarbonate depth bands, and continuous fluid damping. Remote hydraulic adjustments made with onboard digital controls.

Depending on configuration, priced from $315 to $540.

Groff Ag 877/568-9816

3- and 6-hole finger row cleaners feature a greasable hub design to prolong bearing life and to provide added strength to the finger wheel. Self-cleaning fingers enter soil horizontally and emerge vertically for a tangle-free operation.

Contact Groff Ag for pricing information.

Martin 800/366-5817

Offers both rigid and floating row cleaners. Rigid row cleaners are more aggressive and particularly useful when a furrow is needed to reach moisture. Floating row cleaners have the advantage of always removing residue and lightly tilling seed zone and leaving no skips.

Depending on configuration, priced from $289 to $468.

Sunco 800/676-2146

Sunco Trash Discs feature disc concavity, which flows trash away from the seedbed. Teeth till soil surface to reduce crusting. Hubs are heavy duty and include two triple-seal bearings. Trailing disc sets back so it doesn't compete with lead disc for trash and stalks.

Contact Sunco for pricing information.

Yetter 800/447-5777

Yetter Residue Managers are adjustable to control depth of residue manager wheel. High strength steel arms hold wheels firmly to move tough residue. To fit your planting needs, Yetter has over 400 ordering codes for residue managers.

Contact a dealer for pricing information.

Properly adjusted row cleaners are key to reaping the most benefit.

“The size, moisture content, and structural integrity of the residue is going to vary depending on tillage, weather, or even the genetic makeup of the previous year's crop. Wet, big pieces of residue are going to be harder to move than smaller, fluffy pieces,” says Blunier. “That's why the ability to adjust the aggressiveness of row cleaners improves the performance.”



Blunier says many believe row cleaners should also act as a tillage tool. But that's not their purpose.

“A common misconception with row cleaners is that they do or should do some tillage,” he says. “A row cleaner should not move or till the soil. A properly running row cleaner may lightly till or agitate the soil surface, but tillage is not an objective of a row cleaner.”

He adds, “The main objective and benefit of the row cleaner is to create a clean seedbed – free of debris – so seeds are placed in a consistent environment. A consistent planting depth and a consistent level of moisture for each seed helps the crop to emerge more uniformly, which is the end goal.”

A basic row cleaner starts at around the mid-$200 range. If you opt to buy with mounts or depth bands, the price goes up to more than $400. Yetter has created a calculator ( to help you decide whether row cleaners are worth the investment for your operation.

The chart above provides a sampling of row cleaners available from various companies.

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