When most farmers think about the SoilWarrior system, terms like strip-till, fertilizer placement, soil health and heavy-duty construction probably come to mind. Not many may think about it as a way to apply cover crops or plant soybeans, but that’s just what some SoilWarrior owners are doing.
Those familiar with Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) and the company’s drive to defend the land and lead the charge may not find it surprising that the company and its customers are finding ways to make the system more versatile. Afterall, the business was built around unconventional thinking. Read on for 2 surprising ways to use the SoilWarrior and how to determine if these uses could be a good fit your operation, too.
1. Applying Cover Crops
Mac Ferguson may be relatively new to strip-till, but he’s been seeding cover crops after vegetable harvest since the 1980s. He added them to corn and soybean acres in the mid 1990s.
“For as long as I can remember, we’ve broadcast double cut red clover into wheat in February or March,” says Ferguson, who farms 7 miles north of Lake Erie at St. Thomas, Ontario.
On early harvest vegetable fields not going into wheat, they use a JD 1990 air seeder to drill twin rows of oats, clover, tillage radish and sunflower. Depending on rotational considerations, they apply oats or wheat on corn and soybean acres.
“In the past we’ve grown wheat seed, which precludes us from using rye on most fields,” Ferguson says. “We plan to transition away from seed production so that cereal rye can be added to our cover crop toolkit.”
Prior to purchasing a SoilWarrior in 2017, they broadcast their fertilizer and cover crops. They used to broadcast cover crops at 30 feet and fertilizer at 50 feet, and they also ran a coulter chisel that was 21 feet wide. These were all separate passes with different equipment.
“Our switch to strip-till and the SoilWarrior purchase was very intentional,” says Ferguson, who uses the SoilWarrior on about 85% of farm acres. “We wanted to reduce passes across the field. With this system, we have one skilled operator doing tillage, and applying fertilizer and cover crops in 40-foot swaths. That’s made a huge impact on our ROI by reducing labor, fuel consumption and depreciation.”
He uses a cover crop kit developed by ETS to blow the seeds between the strips at a rate of 20 lbs. per acre. The seed is loaded into one of the fertilizer tanks with tubes connecting its metering system to each of the row units. The tubes can be adjusted to apply in the zone, between the zone or both.
“By the time we’re ready to plant, there’s a nice amount of green cover on the field,” Ferguson says. “While it’s not a diverse mix, we’ve definitely noticed a healthier soil that’s softer in the spring and not prone to crusting. Additionally, we see reduced weed pressure and less erosion.”
Defending the Land
You don’t have to choose between soil health and farm profitability. Minimize erosion while creating precise, nutrient-rich zones. Reduced passes across the field result in equipment, fuel and labor savings with the SoilWarrior®, the only complete Zone Tillage™ and precision nutrient placement system custom built for your farm.
2. Planting Soybeans
Dan Hanson is another conventional tillage convert who is often looking for new things to try on his farm. Three years ago, he tested strip-till with the SoilWarrior on some acres. Two years ago, he decided to attempt planting soybeans with the system. Both have yielded great results so far.
Hanson grows corn and soybeans in central Iowa with the help of one of his sons. It’s the same heavy soil his father, grandfather and great-grandfather farmed, and he wants to keep it healthy and productive for future generations.
“It’s good soil but turns into a brick with enough moisture or field traffic,” Hanson says. “The SoilWarrior really helps break it up and create an ideal seedbed for planting. I’ve been pleased with it from the start.”
The Hansons strip-till in the spring, giving them the opportunity to plant in one pass. The most difficult part of that first season was getting the seed into the SoilWarrior tanks, since typical augers don’t quite reach the top. Their seed salesman had to use a weigh wagon with a belt auger to load the seed inside. Now they have a customized auger system of their own.
“We use the scales on the fertilizer tanks to weigh the seed and determine how much we need per tank based on the population per acre,” explains Hanson. “After 2 years of research and testing populations from 70K to 186K per acre, we’ve determined that a range of 100K-120K is the sweet spot. That gives us 90K to 100K plant stands per acre without overspending on seed.”
Other important things he’s learned in the process involve seed flow, planting depth and seed to soil contact. Since treated seeds are sticky, they mix them with talc powder before loading the tanks. That way the seeds roll in and out smoothly.
While the SoilWarrior is equipped with airbags to control tillage depth, it cannot control planting depth. Some seeds go in 2 to 3 inches and others stay on top of the soil. Hanson has discovered that it doesn’t really matter where the seeds land as long as there’s good seed to soil contact.
Most of the time the seeds germinate naturally, but he’s working with the ETS team to develop a solution that could help ensure seeds get the best start no matter where they land.
While Hanson is pleased with his soybean yields using this method, he’d like to get at least 3 years of testing under his belt before feeling confident in the results. He also cautions growers against thinking this is a way to dramatically increase yields.
“You shouldn’t expect big yield increases,” Hanson says. “While we’ve seen some of our best soybean yields on strip-tilled ground, most of the time our yields are comparable to when we used conventional tillage. The true wow factor comes from making fewer passes across the field. It saves us time and money, and helps reduce opportunities for compaction, which keeps our soil healthy and productive for the future.”
Strip-Till Farmer's Building Healthier Soil and Profits with Strip-Till series is brought to you by Environmental Tillage Systems.
At Environmental Tillage Systems, we believe farmers shouldn’t have to choose between doing what’s right for your soil and what’s right for your business. The SoilWarrior is a complete precision zone tillage system custom built for your farm and delivered to you ready to get in the field. Backed by 24-hour service and support, The SoilWarrior takes the guess work out of strip-till so you can concentrate on defending the land and leading the charge. See soilwarrior.com for more information.