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Tramlines boost row crop field efficiency

Soybeans used to be a crop that you could plant, spray, and walk away from. If you want to break through yield barriers, though, you need to manage this nitrogen-fixing legume all the way to maturity.

John Obery, Metamora, Illinois, pushes past normal practices with late-season applications of fungicides and growth promoters. “I think this is just the start of what we are going to be doing in the future,” says Obery, who farms with his brother, Mark, and cousin Joel.

There’s a problem, though. Entering a field late in the growing season with a highboy or sprayer tramples soybeans. It’s the same story with corn, too. So, you need to weigh late-season application benefits against crop loss from field entry.

There’s a solution, though. Obery has set up 30-inch tramlines in twin-row soybeans on 30-inch centers. He’s also established 38-inch tramlines in his twin-row corn for similar late-season applications.

“The reason we made tramlines is for late-season applications of fungicides, insecticides, sugar movers, and Bio-Forge,” he says.

Tramlines also boost their farm’s efficiency and make spraying easier.

“Tramlines are more advantageous for equipment to pass through,” he says. “This way, we don’t do late-season damage to the crop.”

Works for wheat

Wheat growers have successfully used tramlines for a number of years. They’re basically small field roads formed at planting by blocking drill spouts. By preventing seed from falling in rows, this creates a path for implements to later apply in-season pesticides, fertilizers, and growth promoters.

Tramlines initially sacrifice some plant growth, but not as much as would later occur if the crop was run over during late-season field passes. University of Kentucky agronomists note that adjacent wheat plants can partially compensate for unplanted areas. Meanwhile, no compensation results for plants run over past the jointing stage without tramlines.

Row-crop potential

There’s potential for row crops, too. Virginia Tech University and University of Delaware researchers found knockdown losses can cause .75% to 3% of yield due to wheel traffic in reproductive-stage soybeans. Tramlines could slice these losses by about two-thirds. At a 1% loss, $12 per bushel price, and 40 bushel per acre yields, knockdown losses could tally  $4.80 per acre. Tramlines could cut losses to $1.40 per acre.  It can also make spraying easier.

Obery has applied the same principle to his twin-row corn planted 8 inches apart on 30-inch centers and 8-inch twin-row soybeans. He establishes 38-inch corn tramlines with 120-inch centers, while soybeans have 30-inch tramlines on 128-inch centers. Like wheat, he forms tramlines by blocking planter rows. Tramlines work particularly well on twin-row corn by helping to prevent root pinching that would otherwise occur.

“If we pinch the rows, we defeat the purpose (higher yields) of twin rows,” Obery says.

Tramlines are much too narrow for combines to travel down at harvest. However, Obery tries to drive all traffic to each field’s center to concentrate compaction in isolated areas.

“The only time the grain carts leave the center of the field is when they catch corn,” he says. Following harvest, he deep-rips up the centers to alleviate compaction.

Tramline sprayer

Obery and his family also honed efficiency by modifying a John Deere 4730 sprayer with a 120-foot Boyd Boom that fits with tramlines. Modification highlights include:

  • Clearance of 82.5 inches. This allows it to go into tall standing corn. A lift kit added another 16 inches in height.

  • Narrow and tall sprayer tires that fit inside the tramline rows. “They add more flotation and height,” Obery says.

  • A front-fill hose that enables the sprayer to be filled with water from the front. “That way, we don’t have to walk through the field with treated pesticides,” he says.

  • Automatic flush screens that don’t have to be taken apart for cleaning. “That takes a lot less time and effort,” he says.

  • Crop dividers that enable the sprayer to cruise down through the tramlines. “They help separate the crop so we don’t smash down any soybeans,” he says. Springs give the dividers flexibility to ride up and down, according to field topography. “They work like a dream on tramlines,” Obery says.

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