Winter Winds & Planter Problems

Winds of Change from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

The ground is hard. We have had some odd precipitation events, and we’ve had wind. Lots of wind already this winter. As my mind begins to wonder during the cold days spent inside an office, I am thinking about putting seed in the ground. The reason I reflect on this so often isn’t that this is the first operation of the year for many of you. But more-so because of its importance. We can impact the potential of each and every one of our seeds by 50% or more while it goes into the ground. Obvious things I spend a lot of time talking about; singulation, spacing, and seeding depth all of which are vitally important. But the often overlooked piece of the puzzle is residue management.

Now, I know that some of you conventional till farmers are checking out, but please hang in there, because this matters to you as well. With the winds that we have already had this winter, and the ones that we will no doubt have going into spring, any of you fall tillage guys have to understand that you are in the same boat as our no-till operators. Even if you had a lot of the residue removed in stover bales last fall, I promise you that the distribution or residue is not as even as you want to think. And for those of you that do till in the spring, how often is that field tabletop even? The edges of the disk and how they throw dirt and residue up is not perfect, and we know it. Even our high-speed residue management implements don’t pin everything evenly like we want it done.

For all of those reasons and more, we started putting residue managers on our planters. Through the years we have tried different styles, taking them off, running them deeper and so on. Like so many things on a planter, what works for your is entirely different than what your neighbor prefers. The one thing I do know for sure is that if you have them on your planter, they are seldom set correctly for the environment that we are planting in.

Now a little bit of that statement is rooted in cynicism, but the reality is, no matter how uniformly we have prepared a field, it’s not uniform.  If our residue manager is locked in a hole, it will be wrong some of the time. I’m not gonna play “what if” math games, but there’s a cost to that. So somewhere along the way, somebody got the idea of floating row cleaners. It was a good idea, but it still had flaws.

When I put my boat in the water is it going to float with the same buoyancy with just me in it if I put it on the Calamus, Harlan County Reservoir, In the Missouri River, or on the Lake of the Woods? Water is water and has the same density, but soil is different. Clay vs. Sand, Tilled vs. Compacted, etc., etc.. So floating row cleaners worked in some instances, but not others. Then one day somebody had the idea to put a cylinder on the row cleaner to move it up or down and apply some pressure to it. It was a simple idea that probably came after a moment of clarity. That moment of clarity was undoubtedly right after someone just cracked their head open on the toolbar moving their row cleaners up a notch. Which hat leads us to Precision Plantings Cleansweep.

The long and short of the product is that we add an air cylinder to your planter which can raise our Residue Managers up and down, but also apply pressure. And until the day that somebody figures out how to do it automatically, there is a simple lever and air gauges that you can accomplish this with. The reality is that every day, we should probably be adjusting these managers in the morning when we start, about 10 AM as the dew is off, 2 PM when it is dry and dusty, and again at about 7 PM as dampness starts setting back in. But we don’t. If we are honest, how many times do we just push through an 80 without changing them because we don’t want to take the time? I can tell you that residue managers are the lead piece on the planter because they affect everything behind them. Openers, Gauge Wheels Closing Wheels, and even Starter Fertilizer on some planters are affected by the residue management.

In closing here’s your take home for the day. A piece of hardware like the CleanSweep from Precision Planting is not only the simplest product you can add to a planter but perhaps one of the most necessary. Our goal isn’t to use residue managers as a tillage tool or to remove every piece of residue. At the end of the day giving that row unit a consistent soil and residue environment it can work through, and giving the seed the best chance to succeed is the most profitable choice. As we continue to see people adapt to the high-speed planting movement, I leave you with this thought. How much sense does it make to spend $50,000 more on a high-speed planter to get 40% more done in a day, but still have to stop 45 minutes every day to adjust our residue managers?