By Matt Reese
As more farmers are thinking outside the box to get better results for the environment and their bottom line, innovations with equipment have to keep up. Award winners were recognized, a wide range of topics was highlighted and the evolution of equipment was a part of much of the discussion at this week’s Ohio No-Till Conference in Plain City.
Gary Fennig of Fennig Equipment talked about the continual innovation with equipment for no-till, nutrient management and cover crops.
“We specialize in hand-crafting special requests. Cover crop is one application. Nutrient placement is another. In the next 3 to 5 years, a lot of guys will be taking a hard look at inter-seeding cover crops, nutrient placement, and banding fertilizer. There are a lot of studies out there showing benefits to these farming practices. It is beginning to gain traction,” Fennig said. “We have a corn head cover crop seeder — the seeder fits on the back of the corn head. Another thing is the inter-seeding bars where you put row units on a bar and apply your cover crop between your corn rows. We also have a cover crop system on a Hagie Highboy high clearance sprayer. We have a lot of cover crop systems and I know one farm is different from the next, but I think we have something available for everyone applying cover crops.”
As regulations related to fertilizer application increase across the Midwest, many producers continue to evaluate the feasibility of and equipment for applying fertilizers below the soil surface while minimizing soil disturbance.
“There are a couple of different options that impact water quality when we think about sub-surface nutrient placement. You have some macropore movement directly to the tile and we have some opportunities to break those up while also applying nutrients sub-surface,” said Trey Colley, a graduate student on the Ohio State Precision Ag Team who spoke at the event. “Also we think about soil stratification of nutrients. Sometimes with broadcast applications we’ll have a hot zone with a 0- to 3-inch concentration of nutrients within the soil profile. So by placing those nutrients below the surface, we have the potential to move that hot zone down more toward the root zone where those plants can actually take them up.”
There are a number of different sub-surface nutrient strategies and tools available to help meet the needs of different farms. The equipment capable of sub-surface placement can vary in horsepower requirements, placement options, and the level of tillage.
“When we think about equipment options, we need to look at the different levels of tillage that are acceptable for different producers across the state. There are low-disturbance, high-speed applications like a double-disk opener where you are injecting fertilizer right behind it. That is one of the more popular options that we are seeing being used,” Colley said. “Then there is also more of a strip-till environment. One is more of a zone strip-till or there is deep placement with a shank. Both of those are unique in their own right. All three of those options offer opportunities for preparing the seed bed for the following spring, and then also for reducing our nutrient losses and optimizing that environment for the seed.”
To help identify which option is best suited for various situations, the Ohio State Precision Ag Team compiled a list of sub-surface placement benefits and categorized available equipment options. Here are several benefits of sub-surface placement of fertilizers:
- It makes fertilizers readily available for crop uptake.
- It can potentially reduce pre-plant field passes to a single operation, conserving fuel and reducing compaction.
- Strip-till, sub-surface placement equipment allows for optimal seedbed preparation, improving planter performance.
- It can reduce off-site transport of fertilizer in overland runoff.
The Ohio State Precision Ag Team categorized currently available sub-surface placement implements into one of the four categories:
- “Deep rip and placement” implements apply a fertilizer band (generally three to eight inches) of liquid, dry, or anhydrous, prior to the growing season and usually involve some type of tillage or seedbed modification. They are generally able to operate three- to six-miles per hour in a minimal till to strip-till environment.
- “Zone mixing” type implements mix fertilizer and soil in a tilled zone generally around eight inches wide and six inches deep. These typically use a multiple coulter setup to induce a thorough mixing action on the soil while blending liquid, or dry fertilizer or manure. Operators can generally run in the seven- to 12-miles per hour range in a strip-till or similar environment.
3.“Injection” type implements apply a shallow, narrow band of fertilizer (generally three to five inches), of liquid, dry, or anhydrous fertilizer. Typically, these implements use a single coulter or similar opener to inject the fertilizer product into a thin opening of the soil. These implements normally operate in the seven- to 12- miles per hour range in a no-till or minimal till environment.
- Broadcast then incorporate application is typically conducted by a dual spinner-disc spreader followed by incorporation through disc, field cultivator, or similar tillage tool. Incorporation can be done any time after the broadcast application, but preferably within three to five days.
Unfortunately, the conditions have not been very conducive to any of these options this fall.
“We are seeing some unique challenges this fall and winter. We have been trying to get out of the fields with the combines, much less getting in with a strip-till or sub-surface placement bar. But we are seeing these sub-surface placement operations enabled with technology such as RTK, auto steer, and variable rate application,” Colley said. “Ultimately a bunch of different factors affect the accuracy and uniformity of that application, whether it is the equipment set-up or the actual fertilizer product not being totally uniform.”