For Charlie Hammer, the search for the perfect strip-till unit continues.

The veteran strip-tiller has cycled through several combinations in recent years and struggled to find an ideal fit for the 1,900 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat he and his wife, Nancy Kavazanjian, farm just east of Beaver Dam, Wis.

Charlie Hammer Farms
SPRING SET-UP. Beaver Dam, Wis., strip-tiller Charlie Hammer purchased a used Wil-Rich strip-till bar and is attaching 24 Orthman row units to freshen-up his fall strips. To hold the row units on the 7-by-7 inch frame, modifications included welding a 5-by-5 inch tube inside. Hammer then notched and welded 64 slots to give the bar additional strength.

“You could say we trade equipment for a hobby,” Hammer says. “We’ve had so many different things already and we’re still looking for the setup that’s going to give us the best results.”

This spring, Hammer hopes it’s going to be a Wil-Rich strip-till bar he’s fitting with Orthman row units to freshen his fall strips prior to planting. He purchased the slightly used 60-foot toolbar last summer and is reinforcing it to handle 24 row units.

“That’s a lot of steel. We need to reinforce the bar and we’re working through the frame to make sure all of the grease fittings are set,” Hammer says. “The reason we beefed it up was because on the bubble, there’s a lot of stress. The new models are a 10-by-10-inch main bar, but we’ve got a 7-by-7-inch.”

He reinforced the mainframe by welding a 5-by-5-inch tube inside, and then notched and welded 64 slots to give the bar additional strength. The reinforcements are expected to hold the heavy Orthman units, which have double coulters offset, running about 4 inches apart.

Hammer is also adding a Montag dry fertilizer box with built-in scales to monitor application rates. This spring, he plans to apply an urea-based ESN — a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer — with some ammonium sulfate and MicroEssentials SZ from the Mosaic Co.

“We’ll be installing 2.5-inch dry fertilizer hoses to every row and running a diffuser on it and setting it up for spring application,” he says. “The purpose is two-fold. We’ll be able to aerate and freshen up the strip for our crop and also have our fertility program going on at the same time.”

Heavy Duty

Charlie Hammer Farms 2
SEEKING PERFECTION. Hammer has tried several strip-till equipment combinations and is still searching for the best set-up for his farm. In the spring, he needs a unit that will effectively clear residue off the strips.

Finding the right combination of strip-till components is something Hammer has tinkered with for years. When he first began custom strip-tilling in the 90s, Hammer rented a DMI strip-till unit from a local co-op.

Three years ago he pulled his Montag fertilizer cart behind a Bauer 24-row strip-till bar with Dawn Pluribus row units. But Hammer says he didn’t get the performance he was seeking, especially through residue.

“We’ve been strip-tilling some corn-on-corn for 8 years and it’s worked out well,” Hammer says. “But the issue we’ve had is there’s been so much residue that we couldn’t get the flow through because of the big castings on the units.”

Prior to the Dawn Pluribus/Bauer combination, he tried an ETS Soil Warrior for a season, but Hammer had the same issues when it came to clearing residue in the spring.

“We really need the residue mover to follow the contours of the ground extremely close,” he says. “The Soil Warriors have a double-coulter system for the spring, but didn’t have any residue movers up there.”

Rocky Transition

Two years ago he purchased a Kuhn Krause Gladiator strip-till unit, which Hammer says worked well building strips in the fall of 2011 and 2012. But Hammer’s rocky ground eventually took its toll on the machine.

Charlie Hammer Farms 3
SPREADING THE WORD. Hammer and his family promote the benefits of strip-till and conservation tillage on a custom billboard on the side of a semi-trailer. “It’s an effective marketing tool,” Hammer says.

“The unit did a great job and we found it was the best application we could get,” he says. “But we have an extreme situation here and an issue with rocks.”

While he liked the Gladiator setup, Hammer says the fixed row units didn’t allow him to adjust the shank up and down to compensate for variability in the ground.

“It’s like a wheelbarrow effect, where the units didn’t follow the contours on the ground,” he says.

He’s hoping the heavier Orthman units, with a parallel linkage system and double coulters offset, will be able to more closely follow the contours of his fields and create a wider berm for the seed.

“I like the depth these units provide. And that coulter will keep going up and down through any variables,” Hammer says. “It’s a fixed system, but it will have good travel, so I hope this will handle our rocks much better.”

Spring Cleaning

Last year, Hammer planted directly into his fall strips, because the spring weather in Wisconsin was extremely mild.

That isn’t the case this spring, which is why Hammer wants to freshen his strips before planting to generate some heat units in the strips — beyond where the residue would be — and get his crops off to a good start.

“Working in south central Wisconsin, we’re having an issue here in 2013 with a cold winter and cold spring,” he says. “We have to get out and get a zone built residue-free, and absorb every heat unit we can get in April and May to get a crop going.”

Once the Orthman units are attached, the strip-till unit will be matched up with Hammer’s 24-row Kinze planter. This gives him a controlled traffic system for planting and strip-tilling.

Charlie Hammer Farms 4
SOMETHING NEW: Hammer is hoping the heavier Orthman row units with more closely follow the contours of his fields and create a wider berm for the seed.

“The only thing is we can’t harvest in a controlled-traffic system, because we have a 12-row combine,” he says. “But controlled traffic is a big thing we’re missing out on. We’re having too many pinch-row issues that are detrimental to yield.”

Hammer’s goal is always to improve yields, and finding the right combination of strip-till equipment is a part of the process for him.

While he’s optimistic that his latest creation will pay off come harvest, Hammer acknowledges that there may be something better down the road.

“This setup is going to come close to what we’re looking for, and possibly exceed expectations,” Hammer says. “But we’re trying to search and come up with the perfect unit. I don’t think we’ve done that yet.”