Article written by Whitney Passint, UW-Extension. Photos by Brent Petersen, UW-Extension.
Why the study?
As year three of the Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network comes to a close, we reflect on the extraordinary steps our local producers have accomplished and the lessons we have learned along the way. With increasing fuel prices, scarcity of labor, and competitive market prices, many producers are exploring opportunities to increase their return on investment and improve their bottom line. Implementing no-till practices is one way to address rising costs. It has the potential to reduce financial and labor inputs, while simultaneously improving soil health. The Demo Farms Network is working with producers to understand the benefits of cover crops with minimal or no soil disturbance farming and its feasibility in northeast Wisconsin.
During the 2016 season, Brent Petersen, the Demo Farms project manager from the Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department, recognized that closing the seed-vee was a consistent challenge for no-till producers. Many producers have found that rather than closing the seed-vee and providing the necessary layer of loose soil above the seed (Figure 1), their closing wheels leave defined furrows (Figures 2 and 3).
According to Petersen, properly closing the seed-vee is essential for good soil-to-seed contact. By failing to do so, the seed is vulnerable to dry conditions, which can negatively affect germination and/or root development. During the growing season, seeds are one of the most expensive input; therefore, it is vitally important that we provide the seed its greatest chance to succeed.
Figure 1: Field was planted with Dawn Curvtine closing wheels. Note the loose soil covering the seed furrow (Dawn Curvtine results: 34,000 pp).
Figure 2: Field was planted using Extapa closing wheels. Note the defined seed furrow (Extapa results: 32,571 pp).
Figure 3: Field was planted using a Martin + Smooth seed closing combination. Note the defined seed furrow (Martin + Smooth results: 33,857 pp).
To address this issue in the Lower Fox River Basin, Petersen teamed up with Dave VandeHey and his son Derek from New Horizons Dairy to test 13 different combinations of closing wheels. Despite being one of the newest members of the Demo Farms Network, the VandeHeys have been no-tilling portions of their land for more than a decade. Their experience and willingness to try new equipment was crucial to the success of the study.
The objective of this study was to determine which closing wheel performed best in a no-till, heavy soil system. As its name implies, the closing wheel functions as the planter’s final contact with the seed. It is responsible for ensuring that the seed receives the proper soil-to-seed contact. Therefore, determining performance levels is of great importance for producers in the Lower Fox River Basin.
Thirteen different closing wheels or combinations of wheels were attached and placed side-by-side on VandeHey’s planter. No-till planting followed a winter rye cover crop, which was harvested in late May 2016. Planting took place in early June at a rate of 36,000 plant population (pp) per acre. Petersen took stand counts at seven different locations on July 5, 2016 and calculated the plant populations for each of the thirteen closing wheel combinations (Table 1).
Table 1: Closing wheel results in descending order of plant population estimates. Plant population estimates taken on July 5, 2016 from seven different locations in the 23-acre field. Of the 13 closing wheels or combinations of wheels, 10 had significant results.
* Available for rental
** Combination of closers produced less than acceptable plant populations. Values were below the least significant difference (LSD) of 30,770 plants/acre.
It is recognized that the New Horizon study represents only one growing season; therefore, the results may not represent the full potential, or lack thereof, for any one piece of equipment. However, the study does provide insight into which closing wheels provide a larger probability for success and it reinforces the importance of closing the seed-vee.
The rows planted with two Dawn Curvtine closing wheels out-performed (34,000 pp/ac.) the other twelve wheels or combinations of wheels. Note that closing wheel combinations that consisted of only one Dawn Curvtine performed below the least significant difference (LSD); therefore, their results were considered less than acceptable (Table 1).
As demonstrated in Figure 1, the two Dawn Curvtine closing wheels covered the seed furrow with a sufficient layer of loose soil, which is believed to have contributed to the equipment’s successful plant population in the New Horizon Dairy study. Closing the seed-vee with loose soil improves the seeds probability for successful germination and root establishment, even in poor environmental conditions such as extreme heat. Additionally, it was found that the Dawn Curvtine performed best in heavy and wet soils, suggesting that it may be the most effective closing wheel available.
While both the Martin + Smooth and the Yetter 2 Disk + Wheel performed at a high level (33,857 pp/ac.), it is difficult to determine whether these results would be consistent in other fields under different circumstances or if the New Horizon’s study was an exception. As seen in Figure 3, the Martin + Smooth closing wheel left a defined seed furrow, which under poor weather conditions may leave the seed vulnerable and result in a low plant population.
After seeing the results on their land, Dave VandeHey said that they are looking to use different closing wheels for the 2017 planting season. While they have not settled on a specific model yet, he states that through this study they have “found other options that work better in wet conditions.” While they try to avoid planting into wet soil, having more versatile equipment is important for producers in this region of the state.
Dan Brick Demo Farm – No Till
Greg Nettekoven Demo Farm – No Till
Tinedale Demo Farm – No Till
Interested in Testing it for Yourself?
For those interested in renting equipment, Brown County Land and Water Conservation will have Dawn Curvtine closing wheels available on a first come, first serve basis. Please contact Brent Petersen for additional information.
Brent Petersen, Demonstration Farm Project Manager, CCA; (920) 391-4643
Brown County and Outagamie County have Pro-Stitch closing wheels available for rental in the Plum and Kankapot Watersheds. Please contact either Nick Peltier or Andrew Kiefer for additional information.
Nick Peltier, Brown County Land and Water Conservation, Agronomist, CCA; (920) 391-4633
Andrew Kiefer, Outagamie County Land Conservation, Agronomist/Conservation Planner; (920) 832-5044