Using the right tillage equipment for the job

You can’t always choose your soil, but you can choose the tools to get the best out of it, says David Pitt, President of Ralph McKay

“Growers all know that seed to soil contact is the foundation of getting a good crop, so the choice of tillage tools is critical to success,” says David Pitt, President of cultivation equipment specialists Ralph McKay, part of the McKay-Empire-Wiese Group.

Structural damage to soils resulting from previous cultivations will need to be addressed to achieve the necessary quality demanded for crops, whether they are cereals, potatoes or sunflowers. “Growers should assess their soils carefully before planting and consider the right tools to do the job properly,” he says.

Tilling options – minimum tillage (min-till) 
The decision on whether to till nor not will depend very much on the local soil conditions, weather over the past year and the crop to be grown.

In dry areas the min-till option has become widely accepted across the world, and Mr Pitt explains that this is partly due to the increased ability of the soil to maintain its moisture under this regime. “When you use min-till, the humidity will be very much better, giving quick and reliable germination,” he says. “This is where our world-leading ‘SW’ slim-wedge line chisel ploughs comes into its own, thanks to a narrow stem that minimises disturbance so that the precious moisture remains in the soil.

“Sharpness is crucial in making a clean line into the soil rather than just smearing it. So, when developing the XD range, we created a ‘dart’ that is a specially-engineered raised section along the centre line of the sweep which causes the sweep to retain its sharpness throughout its working life.” This clean-cutting blade has the added benefit of reducing the stress on the farmer’s equipment, he notes, adding: “We also find the lowcrown feature allows for improved scouring and easier pulling, plus better protection for the bolt heads where the shank attaches. Drilling and seed placement has its challenges too.

“When you are using the min-till system, consistency of depth is more important and difficult to maintain. If you plough, because the soil is made uniformly soft and smooth, drills have a much simpler job to do. But if you are going down the min-till option, the drill design is really important, so well designed air drills and seeders, such as those provided by Horsch Maschinen, are a must. “We are pleased to work closely with this German market leader that is one of the most popular brands in Eastern Europe.”

Moving on to talk about working in hard soil,  he points out that  sweep wear occurs from the bottom up, which increases the footprint and reduces cutting effectiveness. To compensate more weight has to be applied to the implement to attain the required depth. “Growers find that the tool ‘Penetrator’ solves this problem for them and this has been backed up by trials undertaken at the University of Saskatchewan.” He notes that the chisel sweeps are available in parallel wing formulations, which allow the sweeps to maintain their original cutting widths as the sweep wears.

The company does not just fulfil the needs of agricultural farmers, he adds, as it also offers vegetable growers a full range of specialist vegetable tillage equipment, including hoes, shovels and knives.

Equipment set-up
One concern voiced by many farmers is the difficulties they encounter in training their staff to set- up their tillage equipment, and Mr Pitt remarks that the company has produced easy-to-use ways for fast and easy attachment to most makes of field cultivators. “We listened to our famers who emphasised the need to have kit that fits your other equipment well and does not waste too much of your operator’s time. “So, a while back, we developed a technology that we call ‘nokon’ technology for fast and easy attachment to most makes of field cultivators; chisel plows; air drills and seeders. This complements our other means of coupling kit, the ‘bolt-on’, which is also very popular.”

He adds that a common problem is that yields are held back by a hard pan in the soil just below where cultivation normally takes place. “The best way to see whether your soil is compacted is to take a spade and dig a hole,” he says. “That will help you judge how bad it is and take a decision on the remedial work that will need doing. “There is only one remedy for compaction, which is to use a subsoiler,” he says, advocating using the popular Wiese range that are designed to fit most ‘V’ type rippers. “When you have a problem, this piece of kit is the most useful, and it can be fitted with hard faced wings and extra-heavy chrome wear caps. “It really makes a difference to the structure; however, if you are planning to use one, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast. If you get heavy rain within a few days of using it, the ground can become spongy and sodden again and you may well be back at your starting point.”

Whether talking primary or deep secondary cultivation the MEW Group has a huge range of reversible points, spikes, chisels, steels, teeth and shovels. There are also four ranges of the larger furrowers used to build ridges and cultivate within the ridge, each catering to different crop and soil conditions. “Sometimes the best way is to cultivate at a relatively shallow depth to level out the ruts from last year. You then follow this by a deeper secondary pass and removing some of the layers of compaction. However, it’s important to remember that if you use a lot of horsepower at the beginning by trying to go too deep when the soils are still very wet, all you will do is smear the soil and burn tractor fuel.”

Getting your drilling technique right is crucial to achieving your supply quota, so you need to have the right equipment to be able to sow at the right depth and be able to insert the fertiliser in just the right place. “Precision can be difficult to achieve without the right equipment, so it’s well worth taking the time and getting it right,” he says. “It really helps to be able to choose from a good range of range of seed/fertilizer opener blades and coulters, such as those provided by our Group.”

Growers get to choose between plain or notched edges, with the shark-tooth variant available for more aggressive requirements.

In addition, the company’s round part offering is completed by a complete range of high-quality economical disc blades, with differing diameters and thicknesses. He goes on to remark that using modern tillage equipment, such as that used in North America,  is not confined by the size restrictions imposed in Europe, and consequently is larger. It can, therefore, get the job done more quickly. “However, faster tillage also implies much faster wear. Whether you are using low crown, or the slim-wedge as a chisel plough sweep rather than its more traditional North American cultivator role, or the use of coulters, discs and openers not only does the MEW Group have the necessary product range to do the job, it is made to last using high carbon or high carbon/boron alloy steels. “We do offer the option of hard facing or durafacing our sweeps, or even adding chrome if required. Such enhancements often require significant increases in tractor horsepower, however, a factor that needs to be taken into account,” he concedes. “I believe the MEW Group has the world’s best reputation for meeting all the grower’s requirements including matching, fitting, ease of attaching and durability. 

“Put this together with price attractiveness, achieved thanks to manufacturing efficiency and short distribution channels, growers have a product range they can consider with confidence as a means to achieve the yields they need to fulfil their quota."