Michigan Producers Test TrackTill® Attachment
Several very significant changes in sugarbeet operations have been instituted at D & B Karg Farms of Harbor Beach, Mich., within the past several years. Father Dennis and son Brian transitioned to 22-inch rows (from 28s) in 2010 across their sugarbeet, corn and edible bean acreage.
They’ve also gone to 100% stale seedbed (no spring tillage) on their sugarbeet fields. And, like several dozen other Michigan and Ontario producers, they now harvest their beets with a self-propelled harvester (a ROPA Tiger) that they purchased in 2011.
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The Kargs’ willingness to experiment with new tools and methodologies took on another dimension in 2015 when they mounted a TrackTill® attachment on their 24-row John Deere DB44 CCS planter. The TrackTill unit, developed by Iowan Colin Hurd and initially marketed by his company, Agricultural Concepts, is now built and sold by Yetter Manufacturing. The Kargs struck an agreement with Agri-cultural Concepts to test a TrackTill unit last spring and, as of February, were discussing a possible similar agreement with Yetter to use the unit for a second planting season in 2016.
The purpose of the TrackTill is simple: to alleviate soil compaction in middle rows stemming from tractor and planter wheels (or tracks). A center-fill planter carries extra weight in those middle rows, of course, compared to hoppers where the seed weight is “diluted” across all rows. “Center fill is wonderful,” Brian affirms. “It’s so much each easier to fill seed and plant crops. But the problem is, you’re carrying all that weight on the center section — and the wings are actually too light.”
With that extra weight, the Kargs were seeing smaller, narrower plants in the center eight rows as compaction limited root growth and reduced water and nutrient infiltration. “Then the wings would be nice and even,” Brian says. “When it came time to spray, we could see exactly where [the line] was.”
“The beauty of TrackTill is that it uses ‘old-school’ technology tillage to break up the compaction behind the tire,” he observes. “And it also takes about 4,000 pounds of weight off the planter.” The TrackTill Frame Mount, designed for planters with row spacings of 20-22 inches or 30 inches, has fully pneumatic adjustable down pressure along with four mounting assemblies with its attached vertical 10-inch tine rollers. The Karg planter’s 20/20 Air-Force supplies the air to operate the TrackTill. “Also, I split off and put a second set of regulators for the inside two rows because there’s less compaction in those (compared to the trac-tor/planter tire rows).
Along with the TrackTill unit, Brian developed his own weight distribution system for 2015 that, when folded out, takes up to 7,000 pounds off the center section and applies it to the wings. That, he believes, has also contributed to lower soil compaction over the center rows. The system works by regulating hydraulic oil supplied by the VRD motors to pressurize cylinders mounted in the flex area of the wing.
The Kargs undertook nine field trials last year to gauge the impact of the TrackTill: three fields for each of their three row crops; four replications of each trial. The sugarbeet trials were conducted in cooperation with Michi-gan Sugarbeet Advancement. In one of them, the preceding crop was dry beans; in the other two, the beets went in behind wheat and an oil radish cover crop. All three sugarbeet trials were planted into a stale seedbed. Only the center eight rows were harvested for “with” and “without” TrackTill yield and quality comparison. Per-acre rev-enue was, as well, calculated just for the eight rows that were harvested for the trials, not on a whole-planter basis.
In the first trial — the one in which the beets followed dry beans — the TrackTill portion showed a 1.6-ton ad-vantage and a percent sugar similar to the non-TrackTill portion. Recoverable sugar per acre was 312 pounds more on the TrackTill, and per-acre revenue ended up $77 higher compared to the non-TrackTill portion of the trial field.
Brian points out that this field was harvested early in the 2015 campaign, and he believes the TrackTill tonnage advantage over the non-TrackTill may have been even larger had the field been dug later in the harvest.
Though not calculated as part of the official trial results, productivity from the harvested wing rows also was measured in addition to the center rows in this particular field. Compared to the wing rows, there was a 4.0-ton reduction across all center rows due to compaction — and the TrackTill effect was able to offset about 1.6 tons of that.
In the two trials where the sugar-beets followed wheat and the radish cover crop, yield and quality results were very similar between the Track-Till and non-TrackTill portions, thus resulting in no difference in per-acre revenue. Those two fields actually yielded significantly better than the first field (43.8- and 41.0-ton/acre aver-ages, respectively, compared to the first field’s 33.5-ton average). Brian believes that difference was primarily due to less compaction in those two fields, given the deep tillage conducted following the 2014 wheat crop coupled with the effect of the radish cover crop.
While the 2015 results were not dramatic — and not even significant in two out of the three trials — the Kargs were sufficiently impressed with the TrackTill’s potential to be open to test-ing it a second time in 2016. “It makes sense to me,” Brian says, “because it’s proven that tillage works for compaction.” He’s hopeful of gaining a clearer picture of yield/quality benefits once the 2016 beet crop has been harvested and its productivity analyzed. — Don Lilleboe
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