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Spring-loaded coulters

New spring-loaded, independent, rippled coulter machines from Canada are making a big impression on row crop and small grain growers. The machines are hitting the fields like jackhammers across the U.S.

Salford Farm Machinery Ltd., Salford, Ontario, manufactures the 570 RTS coulter cultivator.

Bob Metz, American Soybean Association past president, strongly supports the machine for corn and soybean growers. Metz farms close to the Red River at West Browns Valley, South Dakota. He was the first grower in the region to start using the new tool.

The machine runs on 7-inch spacing with one to five frame sections, up to 50 feet wide. The 20-inch coulters have eight to 13 ripples. Each coulter mounts directly below a large coiled spring with 8 inches of travel. Harrow attachments are optional.

Spring challenges for Metz's farm include cold ground, heavy crop debris, and lots of rocks in the tillage horizon from freezing and thawing action.

Helping improve yields

The machine has helped Metz greatly. The vertical vibration from the rolling coulters drives cracks into the ground. A unit cutting 2 inches deep opens cracks at least 6 inches deep.

Dick Hansen sells the machine in Horace, North Dakota. “That coil-tine shank is vibrating all the time as it goes along,” he says. “It shatters soil to the side and below the coulter. I've found cracks directly below the coulter, down in the 12- to 15-inch range, actually going through hardpan.”

The RTS leaves most stubble and stalks standing, buries very little material, slices heavy trash and stringy vines, and opens the ground well below cutting depth. Drainage is quickly improved.

No-till growers have reported wet areas drying almost overnight and spring heat warming what was previously cold soil.

Metz doubled field speed to at least 9 mph and as much as 12 mph, right after replacing a 45-foot field cultivator with a 36-foot 570 RTS. Five seasons later, he says the moving parts on his machine need more maintenance than the old cultivator, but they require less maintenance than other coulter units.

“Any vertical tillage coulter machine needs some steam to work properly. When you hit a rock at 12 mph, you really do damage if it's a solid gang,” Metz says. “The Salford is a far superior machine for handling rocks.”

One of the independent, spring-loaded coulters will glance off a big rock, or maybe bounce, but the other coulters stay in the ground and on course.

That first season, Metz compared crop response. He cultivated half a field in his normal fashion and half with the RTS.

“We ended up with a 10% better stand of corn-on-corn behind the Salford than we did behind the field cultivator. That was in several fields, several different conditions,” he says.

“When you produce 170- to 180-bushel corn, you get a lot of trash. By running that Salford, we have a much better seedbed, and I believe we have better seed-to-soil contact.”

As a minimum-till tool, Metz found the RTS blackened soil “just enough” to warm it more quickly and lead to earlier, more even germination.

“With the Salford rolling along, the vertical blades and a little bit of a harrow behind makes a really great seedbed,” Metz explains. “When we have a wet area, if we can work through with the Salford, in the next day or two we are able to plant. We end up with a good seedbed, and that's very important to us.”

The hammering action, Hansen says, does more than accelerate drying action. It appears that microorganisms and fertilizer penetrate with the moisture below the normal seeding zone.

“Because the Salford RTS is vertical tillage, you're not tearing stuff up like you do with horizontal tillage. A lot of no-tillers are going to this,” Hansen says.

Metz adds, “I'd bet close to 50% of the acres are now covered with a Salford in our area. It's one of the most revolutionary tillage tools I've seen in my 35 years of farming, it truly is.”

Field trials

The 570 RTS has been entered into university research programs in Kansas and Minnesota.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes, tillage specialist, says she has a possible concern with the jackhammer-type impact from coil-tine coulters. The trials were done with corn and soybean plots.

The impact appears to “shatter all those soil pores under the surface in no-till, and that may reduce the water infiltration rate,” she says. “The concern I hear from farmers, and this is something I'll need to measure, is that it acts like a jackhammer. If that's all you're using, you may form some hardpan.”

The RTS definitely led to early soil warming. The seedbed for strip-till trials was wet and had 76% residue cover from corn-on-corn. It appeared to be unmanageable, Hughes says. “After we ran the Salford over it, we were at 54% cover. That is much more doable.”

Initially, observers couldn't see where it had gone through. A week later, they did.

“It had sized everything into really small pieces. You could see that soil was incorporated into the residue a little bit, and it looked good,” DeJong-Hughes says.

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Dick Hanson

Jodi DeJong-Hughes


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