Corn-soy rig plants strips in one pass


Oxford county cash- cropper John Rettie is sold on the benefits of cropping corn and soybeans in strips. It's getting the crops in the ground that will take some fine-tuning.

The farmer from Norwich, who grows 500 acres of corn and soybeans, first tried planting in strips two years ago. But many trips up and down fields with different planters and drills convinced him there had to be a better way.

Last May, he hit the fields with an eyestopping rig designed and built by Rettie and his friend Rick Lees: a four-row John Deere 7000 corn planter linked to a 750 no-till drill carrying liquid fertilizer. The idea was to plant the strips in a single pass.

The unit took untold hours of thought and shop time over the winter. Rettie gives credit for a lot of the design work to another friend, Rob Hoskins.

The corn fertilizer and seed transmission were mounted on the 750 drill by a series of sprockets and drive chains. Each row of the four-row corn planter on 36-inch rows was "split" into two eight-inch rows, to increase plant population to 40,000 plants an acre, and give plants more room and exposure to sunlight. The soybeans were planted in 12 15-inch rows. Liquid fertilizer was controlled with an electric clutch.

The switch from one crop to another at the headland was done in the cab with what Rettie calls the "magic wand", which fits over the hydraulic control, with five electrical switches. Switching from corn to beans is simply a matter of hitting a few buttons. "It's a little less than exciting and a little more than boredom," says Rettie. Both planter and drill were loaded for fillup at the same time.

He also devised an ingenious way of applying pre-plant corn fertilizer and soybean herbicide in a single pass to match the strips of corn and soybeans. The herbicide tanks were mounted on the wings of a 30-foot Wil-Rich cultivator, to match the soybean strips. The cultivator pulled an anhydrous wagon in the centre to match the corn strips.

For planting the corn strips immediately after cultivation, Rettie simply followed the buggy tracks. Potash was banded on with the planter.

Rettie's eventual plan is to go to no-till, which will make things easier: "If you've got residual, you know where to plant."

Rettie planted all of his 500 acres last year with the rig, and had one custom job.

The farmer was happy, but Rettie says he'll make changes this year. The soybean stand was fine, with a 47-bushel average, but the corn stand was uneven, and finished up 10 to 15 bushels down.

Still, 140 bushels beat his long-term average of 115 bushels, in a droughty year. "Stripping still paid off," Rettie says. For soys, on-farm tests could find no advantage or disadvantage to planting in strips.

This year the farmer hopes to make changes. Rettie blames the uneven corn stand on the configuration of the corn planter - seed went from the 7000 units into the ground through 750 drill openers. "The seeds came out helter skelter, and there were a few other problems," says Rettie.

"The concept was good, but the stand was less than desirable," he says.

This year's unit will keep the frame and 750 drill, but incorporate two 7000 corn planters. Rettie says he'll basically "take two 7000 John Deere units, cut them in half, and glue them together to get an eight-inch split row." Corn will be planted by the whole 7000 unit, not through the 750 drill bottom.

Rettie hopes the new unit will "give us the stand we need." He says combining is conventional, though speed is reduced. His four-row corn header can handle the eight-inch split rows. Beans are harvested with a 15-foot flex header.

The new unit will also have a fertilizer coulter in the centre to band fertilizer, including potash and urea, in four-inch bands offset of each row.

This year, he'll pull the rig with a Versatile 500, 175-hp tractor; last year he used a 120-hp Ford 8630. Articulation will help at the headlands: "The planter turned out to be large and cumbersome," says Rettie.

He'll also do some more thinking about the width of the strips. Crops are currently planted in 27-foot strips - 15 feet for beans and 12 feet for corn. That means some overlap of beans on beans in the following year. "I'm trying to work on best corn row width for the best bushels per acre," he says.

Rettie has every intention of sticking with strips, however: "After travelling up and down those rows so many times, I thought there must be an easier way.

"There is; it's just going to take a couple of years."


Blowing the beans

The Toronto commuter stranded in her sports car on the shoulder of Mayfield Road in Peel Region is unimpressed as Tom French powers by her at eight mph, his Case IH 9270 300-hp tractor pulling the first-ever Wil-Rich Q160 Air Master air seeder with Quad 5 cultivator to be used in Ontario.

"Oh, really?" she asks absently, scanning the horizon for a tow truck.

But farmers with large cash crop spreads are taking a closer look at the air seeder concept, which has been a standby on Prairie cereal and canola farms for years. The biggest advantage of using a stream of air to move seed into the ground is speed. Tom French, who farms with his father Wilson at Humberview Farms, Bolton, can load 160 bushels of soybean seed at a time into the two tanks, through a built-in auger right on the unit. Each 78-bushel tank is divided to handle a 60-40 grain-fertilizer split.

The Air Master cart straddles the hitch of the five-bar field cultivator with 59 seed openers spaced at seven inches. Seed is metred out of the tank, blown from the seed cup by a hydraulically-driven fan through individual tubes, and deposited behind the shanks at a one-inch depth. With a working width more than twice that of a conventional drill, the Frenches can cover more ground faster. They are also saving a second cultivation pass.

"The seed follows in behind the tooth, acting like an old hoe drill," says Wilson French, who has been air seeding since 1983.

Tom French says the new seeder bought last spring after a trip to the Louisville farm show, has better depth control and seed metering than the old model. The soybean stand was competitive with conventionally drilled stands in the area, he says.

One-inch depth setting was consistent; a series of wheels on the cultivator allow it to float, maintaining depth even on rolling land.

Spring barley and winter wheat were also air seeded, though the Frenches stick to their John Deere 7000 12-row planter for corn.

When asked about air seeding technology, Walkerton-based provincial soil and crops adviser Keith Reid wonders whether the cultivator would plug in heavy corn residue. While the Frenches aren't fully no-till, Tom French says the Wil-Rich system is ideal for minimum tillage in their clay-loam soil. Corn land is soil saved in the fall. Soybean and wheat land gets one spring cultivation, followed by the air seeding pass with the cultivator.

He says the system is less vulnerable to stone damage than a drill, and "goes through the soil more smoothly." He has run into plugging in muddy conditions, but no worse than a conventional drill. As for the seed tubes, each row is monitored in the cab, in case of plugging.

As well as blowing in dry fertilizer, the Frenches plant with a liquid fertilizer tank mounted on the front of the tractor. In soybeans, granular inoculant is blown in with the seed. Wilson French says a 200-hp tractor would be sufficient. He says he hasn't noticed any greater seed damage: The six-inch brush auger for loading is gentle on seed.

"It seems scary with all the tubes, but once you've tried it, it's simple," says his son.

While air seeding is new to Ontario, Harriston Wil-Rich dealer Scott Gilmore says farmers with more than 800 acres could justify the investment. The cultivator can also be used on its own. Built in Wahpeton, North Dakota, the 35-foot Quad 5 cultivator with Q160 Air Master has a retail list price of $68,000. - JMM


Bulletin boards blossom


Like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, bulletin board systems, (BBSs) "don't get no respect". Meanwhile, radio and television announcers, school teachers and especially this scribe, hype Internet to anyone who will listen.

No one, it seems, speaks for or about BBSs. They've been the backbone of electronic information for farm computer owners since the ill-fated Grassroots farm system reigned in the mid 1980s. Calls to our own BBS, Farm & Country On-Line (613-678-5483 and 613-678-5485), haven't wavered since we set up our World Wide Web Site last month

Based on a quick peek at the Farm Business Management Council's FBMInet late last month, I think Canada's largest farm BBS has never been better. FBMInet is actually a series of BBSs across Canada which link with each other early each morning to exchange user mail and update files and bulletins from each of the provinces.

Users say they like sharing problems and ideas with farmers and agricultural specialists from coast to coast. There are lots of free computer programs available for the taking. It's a great place to get production and marketing information. News bulletins and coming events are submitted by farm groups and agricultural ministries.

Recently FBMInet began offering free communications software which allows you to view the same kind of colourful JPEG graphics files you see on Internet. Soon it will be hard to distinguish FBMInet from Internet because owner Farm Business Management Council has decided to act on a recommendation from a recent Price Waterhouse study and link the system to Internet.

If you are prepared to wade through a few busy signals you can access FBMInet free through the federal government's not-so- user-friendly toll-free ACEIS lines. Numbers are 1-800-234-4410 and 1-800-234-4415. The free numbers allow you to view and capture information but you'll have to use the direct lines listed when you log on, to download any files.

The once-popular OMAF Online maintains a few good features like weather forecasts but seems to be in the doldrums these days. However, OMAFRA's always excellent Farm Market News BBS at Ridgetown continues to churn out a wide variety of timely Ontario farm market information.

It offers things like daily hog and grain prices as well as fruit and vegetable reports. "Why not get your market information from the same place many newspapers do?" is how one farmer explained it to me.

You'll rarely encounter a busy signal but late mornings and afternoons on weekdays are most active. Hardly anyone calls on weekends, early mornings or after supper.

Their statistics program shows the average caller has used the service 34 times, with the average call lasting three minutes. The board at Country Guide, one of the pioneer farm BBSs isn't answering these days.

John Kerr, system operator of the Stewardship Information Bureau BBS at Guelph (1-519-767-1790) recently launched his easy-to-use free site. He has already provided some freeware and shareware for downloading, along with a great searchable database on land use topics.

Do you want know if there's going to be a garbage dump sewage lagoon or other environmental nasty near you? Call the free Environmental Bill of Rights BBS at 1-800-667-9979. There is plenty of other government information there too.

This is just an update on a few farm BBSs. E-mail your personal favourites to or Farm & Country On-Line.
Robert Irwin is Farm & Country's computer guru.