LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Time is money. That is especially true at planting, when farmers often have a limited window to get their seed in the ground.
Fortunately, new technology is letting farmers work faster as they operate their sprayers, fertilizer applicators, planters and — now — tillage tools at higher speeds.
“Why are we interested in speed? Well, we’re farming more acres than we used to. We’ve got to get over this ground,” said Curt Davis, director of marketing and product management for Kuhn Krause.
“So, speed is going to mean acres per hour. It’s going to mean efficiency. We’re going to have to cover those acres quickly, get that crop in the ground, hopefully at the right time, where it’s not too wet and with good moisture.”
But Davis stressed that accuracy is vital as speed increases.
“Things get a little hectic all of a sudden in the cab of a tractor when you approach the end of the field at 10 miles an hour when you are used to going 5 or 6,” he said.
“When we’re operating at 5 or 6 miles an hour here with these different sizes of equipment and then we crank that up to 10 miles an hour, we’re doubling, in most cases, the output and efficiency of our tillage equipment.
“And as the planters start to run faster, then the tillage equipment with the seedbed preparation, obviously, needs to run faster. But we don’t want to sacrifice the quality of that seedbed, which is extremely important.”
Davis and other experts discussed tillage management systems at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. Here are the highlights of what they said.
The final frontier
“You can look at a seedbed and know exactly what you need from a surface levelness. If it’s not level, you’re going to do something about that. The piece that you don’t see as much is the lower subsurface.
“So, I challenge everybody this spring, next time you’re out with the tillage tool field cultivating, whatever that might be, using a vertical tillage tool, wipe back that subsurface and see really what that looks like because that is what is going to affect your planter and how that places seed.
“Everything is really determinant upon how that planter runs and its overall seed placement because what we’re really looking for is that flat subsurface, which allows that planter to run as smoothly as possible to give us the spacing we’re looking for and essentially give us the high-yielding crop production that’s possible.
“As we move forward in technology, the final frontier of technology within soil management is being able to optimize and actually do more site-specific tillage. Right now, most of us go to your field, you look at it and say, ‘I’m not going to no-till that. I’m going to use vertical tillage on that. I’m going to do full-blown conventional tillage here.’ Well, think about how you’re doing your fertilizer programs.
“Most of us, probably, you’re judging that field somehow and then varying that fertilizer, varying your seed, varying your chemicals. The final thing we haven’t really varied yet is how we treat that soil — and that is where our preset systems come into play, to be able to optimize different areas of that field. We’ve teamed up with The Ohio State University to begin studying this.
“All of our functions today with AFS Soil Command will be mapped and then allow us to track that, bring it back and compare it to yield and then begin on the cyclical process of understanding what, how and how much to do for each individual area of that field.”
Seeing is believing
“It all comes back to creating this seedbed, maintaining uniform soil density, we’re trying to manage residue, which is becoming more and more difficult as we have tougher, tougher stalks, higher, higher, yields from corn. So, all of this is contributing to vertical tillage, managing that soil on top.
“If you’re doing this right on your farm — everyone should be doing this — you’ve got to be pulling that soil back, you need to see what’s happened. This isn’t new, this is the old way, and it has to continue.
“What’s changing in the industry? Implement control for the Turbo-Max is new for Great Plains this year — it’s the same great performance you see out of a Turbo-Max, but with improved visualization. So, we’ve got the hydraulic tongue for easy fore and aft leveling, we’ve got the hydraulic adjustable finishing reel, we’ve got the hydraulic gang angle from zero to six degrees and you can add the Turbo-Seeders to this.
“But now we’re going to add the next step to it, which is your in-cab adjust. So, now you’ve got sensors on here, we can see the angle of the fore and aft, we can see the angle of the gangs, we know our reel position and now you can see all of that right here on the cab in an ISO-compatible monitor, so you’re not having to add a new monitor — if you have anything ISO-compatible, it will load right on your machine.
“Something unique for this system: It’s really an entry-level technology package. So, if you’re worried about the technology not working, the mechanical fail-safes are all there. So, the same way it used to run before you put the technology on, it’s all still there. You can bypass the electronics and run it the normal way.
“We think this is going to help customers get more familiar with the technology and build their confidence. So, as we go to more and more automation in the future, we can start to pull those mechanical fail-safes back.”
Make every dollar count
“Obviously, the name of the game today is efficiency. We’ve seen that in GPS and guidance systems. We don’t get overlap. We don’t get underlap. We make each pass efficient in the field.
“Managing those efficiencies, what are our three biggest costs that we need to manage? Obviously, seed, fertilizer and fuel are some of the things that are our biggest input costs to the operation and some of the things that we can directly affect. A dollar saved is going to be a dollar earned, especially in today’s economy.
“You’re been doing that with the GPS guidance, whether it’s been with planting, tillage, spraying or even the harvest operation, and variable-rate technology, being able to apply exactly what’s needed in a certain area, whether it be seed or fertilizer or even spray, to be able to manage that input cost and not over-apply or under-apply, but get just the right amount out there.
“Products to meet those needs, several different things from Kuhn Krause that we have available: the new Interceptor — it’s something that, I think, farmers are really looking at because of its capability to take a lot of corn residue, incorporate into that soil and turn that into organic matter and get better nutrient utilization out of that residue; the Excelerator — the vertical till aspect of creating that superior seedbed and setting yourselves up for a very good vertical tillage operation, that’s what the Excelerator excels at; the Gladiator — something that is for strip-till and something for the micromanager, someone who manages every dollar, every ounce of fertilizer and prepares that seedbed with GPS accuracy to come in and plant directly where that fertilizer has been applied; the Axent and Axis fertilizer spreaders — even with a spinner-type spreader, the ability to spread point rows or border spreading in your fields, no matter the shape; and MyKuhn, a recently introduced customer portal access that allows you equipment services that are directly geared towards your operation.”
Ask the tough questions
“We work very closely with our sister company, Precision Planting, in conducting a number of crop tours in 27 different locations, 10 different states, learning about the agronomics of farming and the impact that our machinery has on farming.
“Think of yourselves as an investor and think about the fact that if you put in 34,000 seeds per acre and you grow 1,000 acres, that’s 34 million investments. I don’t think there is a stockbroker on Wall Street who makes as many investments in his lifetime as you do every spring.
“At AGCO, we’re looking at how can you as an investor become a better investor and get a better return on your investment? We look at the entire crop cycle, starting at harvest, through fall tillage, spring tillage, planting season and, of course, in-season applications.
“There are a lot of factors when we plant. There’s depth, there’s closing, there’s in-row residue and what condition the soil is in.
“This is one of the questions that we’ve learned on the crop tours: Do we truly understand what we’re doing, and why we’re doing these certain things? Do we clearly know what that tillage tool is doing?
“Potentially, are we encountering uneven mixing of residue? Do we know that we’re tilling at an even depth all the way through the field? Are we actually creating hard pan? Are we actually creating washboard? Or, are we just wasting fuel and time?
“In this past year, we introduced Till Control for depth and level management system on several of our models, ensuring that even level tillage, ensuring that seedbed environment is even across the entire width of the tool, with in-cab adjustment of the implement depth, hydraulic drill down pressure and control of the spider tine depths — we truly believe that this innovation gives your tillage ‘intilligence.’
“I challenge you to ask yourself: Am I doing the right thing when it comes to tillage?”