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Easy Steps to Better Tillage for Better Yields

Sunflower Tillage Experts Offer Preseason Advice for Proper Tillage 

According to Larry Kuster, tillage expert with Sunflower®, the goal should be to achieve a consistent, level soil finish across the entire width of the machine, leaving no ridges or furrows.

According to Larry Kuster, tillage expert with Sunflower®, the goal should be to achieve a consistent, level soil finish across the entire width of the machine, leaving no ridges or furrows.

No matter what your tillage goal is — residue management, seedbed preparation or preparing for the next crop in a rotation — a properly adjusted and properly used tillage implement will result in fewer trips to the field, better management of the quality and performance of the next crop, and hopefully lower potential erosion.

Tillage experts from Sunflower®, the industry’s full-line provider of tillage and seeding implements, offer some advice for preparing and setting disc harrows before going to the field this fall. These tips apply regardless of the brand of disc harrow you’re working with.

“The goal should be to achieve a consistent, level soil finish across the entire width of the machine, leaving no ridges or furrows,” says Larry Kuster, senior product specialist with Sunflower, a brand of AGCO. “How a machine is set and how it is used really impact reaching this goal, and also determine how effective the machine will be at cutting crop residue, sizing it consistently, and then mixing it into soil to encourage breakdown over the winter.” Kuster offers these tips plus easy-to-follow photos and detailed instructions from Sunflower demonstrating how to set a tillage machine.

Properly pair the tractor and tillage tool. Size does matter, so don’t overpower the tool. A general rule is 8 to 10 HP per foot to pull a tandem disc harrow at 5 to 6 mph. While the design of some tillage tools allows faster ground speeds, going too fast is an easy way to create ridges and furrows. It also can cause tillage tools to bounce, producing an inconsistent tillage depth.

Adjusting the tongue to match drawbar height is important to keep the tillage tool level and moving smoothly through the field, optimizing fuel use and minimizing wear on parts such as the drawbar, level lift assembly and other components that can receive unneeded down pressure if the tool is operated either nose down or tail down. A straight line of draft to the tool is the goal.

Purge air from the hydraulic lines to ensure the wings stay level with the machine’s center section. With the implement’s hydraulics connected to the tractor, simply raise and lower the implement several times to allow the system to cycle fully. Because air is more easily compressed than oil, air in the hydraulic lines can allow the wings to sag.
“If the cylinder sags one-third inch, for example, that could allow the wing to drop approximately 1 inch,” explains Kuster. “That is significant when the tillage depth you’re working toward is only 5 or 6 inches.”

Level the tool from side to side and from front to back to ensure it will work the soil at a consistent, even depth, without gouging or ridging. Keeping the tool level also helps optimize fuel efficiency, reduces wear on the implement, and allows the machine to handle crop residue with less bunching or plugging. Wings and center frames should operate at the same height from side to side. To check these, lower the tool to the ground, stopping the descent when the disc blades are close to the soil but not touching it. Use a tape to measure the distance from the bottom of the frame to the center of the pivot pin on the walking tandem or the top of the wheel spindle if a single or dual wheel is present. The measurements should be the same. Always check the center-section wheels left and right to ensure the integrity of the center lift assembly. Using this same method, set the wings at identical depths by measuring from the bottom of the frame to the top of the wheel spindle or pivot pin of the walking tandem (as shown). If the wheels on the wings are smaller than the main transport wheels, adjust your measurements accordingly.

A handy way to ensure large tillage tools are level from front to back and side to side is to use a tape to measure from the top of the machine (SF1435) to the top of the wheel pivot bolt on walking tandems of the center frame and wing wheels. On models where the dimensions of the frame members vary, measure from the bottom of the frame to the wheel pivot bolt. When measurements are consistent, the tool is level.

A handy way to ensure large tillage tools are level from front to back and side to side is to use a tape to measure from the top of the machine (SF1435) to the top of the wheel pivot bolt on walking tandems of the center frame and wing wheels. On models where the dimensions of the frame members vary, measure from the bottom of the frame to the wheel pivot bolt. When measurements are consistent, the tool is level.

“The great thing about this method is the operator can use it at the shop or in the field,” says Kuster. “You don’t need a level slab of cement.”

Adjust the fore/aft level so the front and rear blades are of equal distance from the ground. This is a preliminary adjustment. Once in the field, confirm the fore/aft level after traveling several hundred feet with the tool lowered in the working position. Check the soil at the center rear of the tool where the soil is returned by the rear gangs. A tool that is level front to rear will produce a complete and level fill of the valley cut by the front gangs. If soil forms a valley, the rear of the tool needs to be lowered. If a ridge is present, the rear of the tool is too deep, and the tool should be adjusted to lower the front of the machine.

Set the tillage depth to your field conditions and the job at hand. A general rule of thumb for tillage depth of an implement such as a disc harrow is 25 percent of the blade diameter. Thus, a disc harrow with 24-inch blades should be set to till no more than 6 inches deep. Implements such as Sunflower disc harrows have a single-point depth control with a convenient hand crank that adjusts the depth in one-half-inch increments each time the handle is rotated one turn.
“When setting machine depth, be sure the machine carries some weight on the wheels, because the wheels are the base of all the tool adjustments previously made,” explains Kuster. “When the tires don’t have some soil contact, control of the implement is lost.”

Follow these steps to achieve the maximum depth of a disc harrow: Operate the tool with the wheels fully retracted; yes, tires off the ground. Stop after working the soil for a few hundred feet and allowing the disc to achieve maximum depth. Lower the wheels until the tool’s frame begins to lift. At this point, release the valve stopping the ascent of the frame, and stop the tractor but leave the tool in the ground. Adjust the single-point depth-control crank until the striker plate contacts the hydraulic poppet valve. Raise the tool until the audible click of the poppet valve engages, which stops the oil flow. The implement’s maximum depth is now set, and control of the tool is retained.

Gauge wheels are especially important on flexible tillage tools to prevent front-wing corners from gouging. When set correctly, these wheels should move slightly side to side when kicked. A tape measure can be used to ensure the setting for both gauge wheels is consistent. The gauge wheel adjustment is the final step in the field adjustment process.
Operators’ manuals will have full details for specific settings on your machine. For more information about the full line of tillage tools from Sunflower, see your Sunflower equipment dealer or visit www.sunflowermfg.com.

Just Launched: Sunflower 4600 Series Disc Rippers

Sunflower 4600 Series Disc RipperThe all-new Sunflower® 4600 Series Disc Rippers are built for North American professional farmers in search of a rugged machine to handle challenging soil and residue conditions. The SF4600 Series combines deep tillage with a proven disc harrow design for primary surface tillage, fracturing subsoil compaction while sizing and mixing residue throughout the entire working depth of the disc blades. The 4600 Series is built on a solid frame with heavy-duty disc harrows and shanks designed to deeply penetrate heavily compacted soils while easily slicing through tough crop residue to maximize crop yield potential.

Available in four models, the 4600 Series is built on a heavy-duty frame with working widths large enough to maximize a tractor’s horsepower.

  • Largest disc ripper in the industry
  • Four models from 14 ft. up to 26-feet, 2-inches
  • Available with 7 to 13 shanks by model
  • Two ranks of industry-leading, 28-inch diameter, 5/16-inch thick disc blades slice and redistribute heavy crop residue
  • Three finishing harrow attachments level residue and reduce clod size in varying soils

Just Launched: Sunflower 1800 Series Tandem Disc Harrows

Sunflower 1880 Tandem Disc Harrow

The all-new Sunflower® 1800 Series Tandem Disc Harrows are built for North American producers who need a heavy-duty disc harrow capable of breaking through hard-packed soils and thick crop residue for primary tillage needs. The Sunflower 1800 Series combines bigger blades and wider blade spacing with larger frames to produce some of the highest weight-per-blade specifications in the industry for reliable performance in the field. These disc harrows feature cutting widths from 14-feet, 4-inches up to 39-feet, with a weight-per-blade range of 333 pounds to 635 pounds.

The Sunflower 1800 Series Tandem Disc Harrows are available in two models with a variety of widths and configurations that cater to the specific needs and field conditions of individual farming operations.

  • Available with 28- or 30-inch plain or notched disc blades, spaced at 11- or 13-inch intervals to slice and mix crop residue
  • Spring-cushion gangs prevent damage in the field from rocks
  • Gang angle positioning can be adjusted depending on crop, field conditions
  • Constructed of high-strength 4-inch-by-8-inch tubular steel to withstand horizontal stress and rotational torque
  • Total weight ranges between 11,152 pounds and 37,568 pounds.

Just Launched: Sunflower 1700 Series Offset Disc Harrows

Sunflower 1700 Series Offset Disc HarrowThe all-new Sunflower® 1700 Series Offset Disc Harrows offer the highest weight-per-blade specifications in the industry for optimal soil penetration and crop residue management in the field. Featuring large-diameter disc blades and the necessary weight needed to easily tear though hard soils and thick crop residue, the SF 1700 Series Offset Disc Harrows combine innovative technology with heavy-duty durability and toughness for optimal soil penetration and crop residue management in the field.

The Series consists of two models that allow for numerous machine configurations with a variety of widths and weights — from 299 pounds to 514 pounds depending on the model and its configuration. The SF 1700 Series working widths range from 11 feet up to 24 feet, 11 inches, giving producers a multitude of choices so they can select the offset disc harrow that’s ideal for their operation.

  • Two models: SF1710 rigid frame, SF1730 flexible frame.
  • Spring-cushion gang design helps prevent unnecessary damage in the field
  • Configured with 28- or 30-inch notched disc blades spaced at 11- or 13-inch intervals for mixing action
  • Adjustable gang angle positioning allow for establishment of ideal seedbed
  • Heavy-duty tubular steel frame is built to withstand rigors of aggressive tillage
  • Total weight ranges between 10,329 pounds and 22,860 pounds

DISCussions: No Words

I find myself in an awkward predicament.  As a blogger, my role is to share.  As an observer, I was speechless.

It was time to make a “farm tour” and check the fields.  Expanses of cut wheat shared the horizon with earnest fields of beans, milo, corn and the occasional fallow ground.  Cliche though it may be, I stood in the road’s intersection and looked to each compass point.  The silence surrounded me.

I thought of the generations of families who have chosen to be good stewards and respect the land.  I thought of the faded billboard reminding passersby that “one Kansas farmer feeds 128 people and you”.  I thought of our neighbors in North Dakota and along the Missouri river whose fields and homes are under water; those in Oklahoma and Texas whose crops died for lack of moisture; and those in the Southwest fighting sand storms and wildfires.

Then I smiled.

Knowing, in my heart, “country folk” will lend a hand as needed; then rebuild and replant.  After all —- they have a world to feed.

Editors note: In honor of World Population Day we celebrate all of the farmers that work hard day-in and day-out to provide enough food to support our ever-growing populations. AGCO works hard to provide farmers with high-tech solutions so that they CAN feed the world. So as you eat your breakfast this morning, take a moment and think about the farmers that contributed to everything you are eating. Learn more about world population growth.

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