Over the past two decades, Canadian producers have seen several foreign brands stake a claim in North America’s ag equipment market. As a result, there is now a broader group of implement manufacturers competing in our marketplace. That means more choices, which is good news for farmers.
Among the newest unfamiliar names to appear on these shores: the Equalizer no-till drill. It was developed in South Africa and is just now beginning field trials in Western Canada ahead of a full product launch sometime in the next couple of years.
The Equalizer firm was recently acquired by Lemken, and the German firm expects to soon retail Equalizer drills through its Canadian dealer network. But it doesn’t want to get ahead of itself with full-scale sales until it’s sure the drill can handle the various soils in this part of the world. So the company is looking for farmers to host the drill on their land and let it do some seeding as part of a large-scale field-testing program.
“There is definitely a higher percentage of black clay soils [here], which is not too common where the drills were developed,” says Gideon Schreuder, managing director of Equalizer and the company’s founder. “Field trials are our main purpose now for fall. We’re bringing in some more machines for the spring of next year to get broader exposure to more soil conditions. So this is a learning process for us.”
To be clear, this isn’t a test of a brand-new design — the drill, as it is, has been in production for more than 2 decades and popular with farmers in South Africa.
“This is a mature product that’s been in the market for the better part of 25 years,” Schreuder says. “It’s very durable, hard-wearing, and it’s precise. We developed the drill as a single-pass system about 23 years ago. At that time most of the farmers were still cultivating. No- or reduced-tillage systems were still quite young. Today we’re the market leader in South Africa for precision planting. We’ve had a lot of success with the same single-pass system.”
The Equalizer drill was designed primarily to work with small grains. It uses a parallel-link opener design for seed placement. That’s typical of most shank drill designs Canadian farmers have seen, but that’s where the similarity ends.
While most typical Canadian-built drills place fertilizer slightly below and to the side of the seed trench, the Equalizer places it differently.
The lead shank places the fertilizer, and it can dig down to six inches deep, placing fertilizer well below the seed trench in what the company describes as a “vertical band.” The opener then closes that furrow and places the seed above it. Fertilizer depth placement is controlled by the frame height, while seed depth is controlled by adjusting the rear packer wheel, so growers can choose the exact placement for each independently. Seed depth and downforce can be individually controlled on each opener. And the rear packer wheel pivots to follow the seed trench more accurately during turns.
But working at that depth means there will need to be a few more ponies hitched to the front of the drill.
“Horsepower requirements will be a little bit higher, because we go deeper in,” Schreuder says. “I would say we are about 20 per cent more.”
The drill is available with either of 2 row spacings: 10.5 inches or just under 12 inches.
“We work on metric, that’s why it’s just under 12 inches,” he adds.
Someone looking at the openers might notice their steel thickness seems to be a little lighter-gauge than most drills might use, but he says not to be misled by that. They use a high-strength steel alloy.
“Although this unit looks lightly built, it’s all made out of special steels,” he says, referring to plates made from steel produced by Swedish firm SSAB. “It’s all 700 megapascals tensile strength. That’s a spring-like type of steel. It’s very durable and flexible. And we choose that to make the unit as light as possible but also as strong as possible.”
When the Equalizer drill is released to the market here, it will be available in 40-, 50-, 60- and 80-foot working widths. The brand offers both tow-behind and tow-between carts to supply the drills with seed and inputs.
“What is unique on our drills is the metering systems,” Schreuder says. “We have a self-cleaning metering roller with a brush on it. It’s a very unique shape of roller. The brush is constantly cleaning that metering roller, so the shape of it doesn’t change over time with buildup, of fertilizer specifically. From a consistency point of view, you will go far to find anything better than that. For durability, everything is made of stainless steel on the casing. The roller is polyurethane, so its longevity is exceptional.”
Lemken showed the first Equalizer drill to arrive in Canada at the Ag in Motion farm show at Langham, Sask., in July, and it was displayed with a mounted product tank. That unique configuration was created specifically for ease of transportation, as the drill moves around the countryside for field trials in multiple locations. The drills eventually hitting the market will work with the typical tow-between or tow-behind carts.
“This configuration was made for ease of moving about,” Schreuder. “We want to get to as many farmers as possible in a short period of time to get first-hand experience in different soil conditions and show what the unit can or may not be able to do.”
If the drill is found to have problems in any of the typical soil conditions, the company will modify it to sort those out before a commercial release.
Schreuder believes there may be some limited retail sales in 2024 but expects sales will really begin the following year.
“2024 is going to be limited numbers still,” he says. “We’re looking forward to 2025, if everything goes according to plan. We foresee we might have to make some modifications to better handle the heavy clay soils.”
Manufacturing, even for those drills bound for North America, will continue to be done at the company’s South African facility.
“We are very focused on seeding and planting equipment,” Schreuder says. “We don’t develop anything else. We have a strong development team of 16 designers. And we have a philosophy of constant improvement, which has made our machines great over time.”
Anyone interested in having the Equalizer come to their farm for field trials can contact their local Lemken dealer. Meanwhile, take a look at the drill at AgDealer.com.