Water, water everywhere. Or at least a lot of rain to hamper no-tillers across the country. A few of them brought their shared frustrations to Farmers’ Forum, the online bulletin board at www.no-tillfarmer.com, where they found both sympathy and answers. Alas, rain wasn’t the only thing running downhill. So was a planter — sideways — in Pennsylvania. But again, Farmers’ Forum visitors chipped in ideas to resolve the problem. Now we bring all of these ideas to you, just in case it should ever rain a little too much in your fields, too.
Wet Dirt, What To Do? We’ve been mostly no-till for years. Our ground doesn’t dry out very well. My split row planter is set up as a Nu-Till rig. I’ve planted several years of soybeans, but I’m not satisfied because of wet dirt. A few beans rot before others come up.
We use a Phoenix harrow and it helps some, but not a lot. I am curious if an Aerway run in the fall would help. I’m in northcentral Missouri and farm rolling to flat land. The soil ranges from light silt loam to clay silt loam.
—Bob Cooper, firstname.lastname@example.org
I had the same problem, and it seemed that each year the fields in continuous no-till got worse. We considered the Phoenix harrow, an Aerway, cover crops, etc. After closer evaluation, I concluded that the use of no-till had brought back a healthy population of worms that were drilling thousands of holes and creating a sponge out of the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
Rainwater would soak in and just sit there. We would end up no-tilling almost a week after the conventional farmers had started planting.
Initially I thought we needed to increase the amount of surface evaporation because the surface residue was reducing the soil temperature and slowing down evaporation. However, that is just what I wanted later in the year when it got hot and dry.
I found the problem existed below the normal working depth of the worms. The tight clay soil was not allowing the captured moisture to drain out of the topsoil.
The solution turned out to be a no-till ripper. If it is dry enough in the fall after the soybean harvest (doublecrop beans after wheat usually), the ground that will be no-tilled to corn the following spring is ripped. Careful selection, set-up and operation of a no-till ripper has produced fields that don’t erode, have all the benefits of no-till and are ready to plant within a day of the conventional tillage farmers in the neighborhood.
While most any ripper will work, not all will allow you to continue to reap the benefits of no-till. I suggest looking closely at the DMI 2500 with no-till shanks and points, the Blu-Jet Subtiller III (not II) or the Tye Para-till.
With all the rain this year, the effect is dramatic. There was no standing water in any of my fields just hours after a heavy downpour. I have low spots that used to have standing water a week after a heavy rain. Not any more!
If you decide to try a ripper, make sure you have plenty of tractor as it will take every bit of 40 to 50 horsepower per shank if your soils are the type to restrict water infiltration.
You make a good point. I did some no-till ripping strips last fall, but I’ll go back and look further at them. Using a penetrometer should help with this dilemma, don’t you think?
—Bob Cooper, email@example.com
In my experience with a deep ripper, when you get this much rain the ground turns to the equivalent of flour and is so soft and wet that you can’t get across it. This was a V-ripper with parabolic shanks that really lifted the ground, so results may have been different with the newer style rippers. We have shied away from subsoiling for this reason.
Does this sound right? Our long-term no-till ground appears wetter, but the structure has changed enough that the ground breaks apart instead of smearing. It has to be long-term no-till for this to happen. The temptation is to pull a field cultivator through the field before the ground changes, going back to square one.
We ripped our endrows last fall with a Tye Para-Till where we would be no-tilling corn this spring. They looked great all winter, nice and mellow. But last spring they turned into mush. By the time we were done fertilizing and planting, we had a rutted mess and the stand wasn’t all that great. I’m sure glad that we didn’t rip the entire field.
We are mostly ridge-till, with some no-till. The ridge-till ground dried out much quicker and only the bottom of the furrow was wet when we could get back into the field. We didn’t have to wait for the residue to dry, either.
— Dan Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org
How Wet Is Too Wet? How wet can the ground be when I plant with the Nu-Till system? Our ground seems fairly solid, but there is very little if any dry dirt on top and sticky muck about 1/4 inch underneath. It doesn’t seem to dry out any further. Gauge wheels don’t seem to pick up much dirt, but trash whippers and spaders seem to pick up more.
I’ve seen pictures of no-tilled planting ground in which it looks like you couldn’t walk across it. I’m wondering if this is just our soil types, if I need to adjust something, or not worry about it and no-till corn?
I am in located in northeastern Ohio, and it was so wet last spring that dirt was balling up on the gauge wheels and trash wheels.
I have another question: How much down pressure should I have on the Keeton seeding attachments?
It is difficult to say, but when it is dry enough to “air out” your ground for tillage, I can usually no-till successfully. I have driven through standing water in the ditches and low areas, but most of the field needs to be dry enough to support traffic.
We fill the planter and tanks half-full and use dual tines to float the rear end of the tractor if necessary.
On the Keeton’s, you need little pressure. Some say a half-pound, and some say 1 pound of pressure measured with a postage stamp-sized scale.
—Ed Winkle, email@example.com
Sidehill Planting Problem. Here in our hilly ground with lighter soils, we have problems with our John Deere 7000 planters sliding sideways (downhill) far enough that the closing wheels are either improperly or not at all over the seed slot. Adding working weight might help some, but not a lot. What could be done to eliminate or improve this?
—Sydney and Elizabeth Weaver,
East Earl, Pa
Consider using three or four ribbed tires instead of the smooth implement tires on your no-till planter. I’ve wondered if tractor traction tires would cut down on planter inaccuracy caused by the smooth implement tire slippage.
There’s a little room in the smaller 7000 planters of the wheel frame bending on a sidehill, too. That should be less in the larger ones with individual hydraulic cylinders mounted on each wheel assembly.
—Gerald J., firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an age-old problem. Farm equipment does not work right on sidehills. You might consider using a large guide coulter or maybe a couple of them running down the middle of the row or rows on the planter to act as a rudder and counteract the side forces due to gravity. Some ridge till cultivators have guide coulters. Front wheel assist tractors also stay on course much better than two-wheel-drive tractors. Another approach is to hinge the closing and press wheels so they always run straight.
Sunflower does this on its no-till drills. Probably the easiest way to improve things is to drag a loop of chain behind the wheels.
You might want to check the condition of the row-unit linkage bushings and closing-wheel arm pivot points for wear.
My John Deere 7000 no-till planter is due for new linkage bushings, and staying centered on a sidehill is tough when they are worn.
On some of the sandy, steeper tilled ground that I custom plant, the entire planter slides downhill and I can’t do anything to keep the closing wheels over the trench. Since the soil is loose and light, the drag chains still cover the seed enough in this case.
—Dave Frisch, email@example.com
I am located in Fulton County, Pa. Sidehill slip is a real hassle here, too. Here are some ideas I have used to control drift (slip).
- Run rows as straight as possible and do not follow the field contours.
- Increase spacing between closing wheels, that is, widen them out.
- What you really need for sidehill work is an old Allis Chalmers 333 no-till special planter with a shortened frame and firming wheels attached to the back of the seed tube. I went from this unit to a White 5100, and it all but put me out of no-tilling just from side drift issues. The new White 6600 “drifts” much less.
Look at the length of the planting unit; a shorter unit usually tracks better.
Are you using seed firmers? If so, don’t worry much about closing the slot completely unless you’re using Prowl.
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