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To till or not to till

Demo highlights differences between tillage and no-till cover crop practices

As more producers start to incorporate cover crops into their soil health strategy, machinery companies are racing to develop tillage and non-tillage options to manage them.

When choosing how to manage your cover crops, the first thing to address is whether you want to use tillage or go to a non-tillage option like a roller crimper.

I was recently in Woodstock, Ontario at the 26th annual Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show (COFS) where I saw two demonstrations showing attendees the different options available for cover crop management.

The first demo focused on four roller crimper implements while the other showcased tillage implements from eight major brands including John Deere, Kubota, and Lemken to name a few.

Before the demonstrations I had a chance to talk with some experts on why farmers are growing cover crops and why they might prefer one management method to the other.

Crimper demonstration.
photo: Laura Rance

“Cover crops add organic matter, they reduce erosion and compaction by growing through compacted zones, and they outcompete weeds and smother them before they can produce seeds,” says Patrick Lynch, a certified crop adviser and field demo adviser for COFS.

Martin Harry, a special projects co-ordinator with Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show added, “The demonstrations are meant to show farmers what cover crops look like using no-till and tillage management practices, and how the different options compare.”

It’s Harry’s job to plan, maintain and manage the cover crop demonstrations at the show site, and he says most of the farmers are there to directly compare the different brands. He says that this particular demonstration is a great way to see how both the tillage and non-tillage options perform on the same soil on the same day in the same conditions.

Non-tillage

The roller crimper is designed to roll over the crop, crushing the stalks and killing the plants and weeds. Breaking the stalks stops any nutrient flow to the plant, helping them start decomposing quicker, without disturbing the soil.

The non-tillage demo showed different roller crimpers working a cover crop of oats and barley, along with some foxtail that had grown in. We saw four different roller crimpers in this field and they all performed similarly. There were very few noticeable differences between the models other than some of the smaller models mounting to the front of the tractor instead of the rear.

For vegetable or plot farming the smaller widths would work well and can match with almost any tractor, but in Western Canada farmers would probably lean towards the wider roller crimpers simply due to bigger fields. While the machines were all very similar other than size, the Crush Rite from Rite Way was a standout because of its larger width and quick working speed.

The Crush Rite is available in widths ranging from 12 to 52 feet and has a transport width of only eight feet. I didn’t get to see it in transport mode but Rite Way says its patented forward unfolding system allows the crimpers to go from transport to field mode in minutes.

“They (the Crush Rite roller models) control weeds without the use of chemicals. (They) kill, knock down, and crush cover crops before planting the main crop, and crimp and crush tough stubble to help it break down before the next growing season,” Rite Way said in a press release.

Tillage options

While we can always look up photos or videos to compare brands, the cover crop tillage demo in Woodstock was the first time I was able to watch these different tillage machines work in a side-by-side test in a cover crop.

All of the machines we saw in this demo were smaller widths and had different features for how much or how little trash bury you’re going for. Tillage tools showcased in this demo were the Pottinger 8000 series, iLGi Argon, Kubota’s CD2400T, Great Plains’ Turbo Max, the (new) Lemken Rubin 10, Landoll’s 7800 Series HSL, John Deere’s 2680H and the Norwood Kwik-Till HSD 2500.

Because this test was actually ripping up a field, the tillage demonstration showed much more variance between brands than during the roller crimper demonstration. The show site had almost an inch of rain the night prior, another factor that definitely made things interesting for the operators.

photo: Laura Rance

The Kubota CD2400T struggled, actually getting stuck (only for a second) in the middle of its pass. The issues were most likely due to the heavy rain and not the operation, but it was noticeable next to machines like Lemken’s Rubin 10 that seemed to have no issue battling the wet, heavy soil.

While the demo wasn’t testing their ability to stay afloat, it was very noticeable when watching different machines back to back how some tilled with little resistance while others seemed to get bogged down much quicker.

Summarizing this specific cover crop demo, standouts were the Lemken Rubin 10, Landoll’s 7800 Series HSL and Pottinger’s Terradisc, which handled the conditions very well, while the Kubota CD2400T and iLGi Aragon struggled due either to disc settings or the wet conditions.

Watching the machines perform side by side gave the attendees a real sense of how these machines can handle cover crops in less than ideal conditions. After watching the two demonstrations I had a much clearer understanding of what the two types of management are meant to do and why a farmer might choose tillage or non-tillage for their cover crops.

If you’re researching cover crops and wondering how to manage them, watching a demonstration is a great way to see how a machine performs individually and next to brands that might have a similar price point.

To see photos and videos from these demonstrations go to the Manitoba Co-operator website or AgDealer.com.

About the author

Reporter

Spencer Myers grew up on a beef and grain farm in Belmont, Man. He is a graduate of the University of Manitoba’s Agriculture Diploma Program and Red River College’s Creative Communications program. Adding to his on-farm experience, Spencer has worked as an agronomist-in-training at Zeghers Seed Inc. in Holland, Man., and a conservation technician with Ducks Unlimited’s Native Plant Solutions division. Spencer is currently based in Winnipeg.

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