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CTF 2011: A year in review

We completed year one of both the CTF (Controlled Traffic Farming) project and also implementation of controlled traffic on our farming operation in 2011. I would start by saying that we probably didn’t appreciate the scope of implementing CTF when we started nor understood the challenges of bringing all the pieces together successfully in one year.

The complexity of this issue was compounded by bringing other variables into play while trying to chart a future path based on unproven options. We have a better appreciation of the term bleeding edge. As an early adopter of direct seeding I would suggest that CTF is a much more complex situation with more variables to sort out. Generally with direct seeding if we got the seeding and fertilizing issues sorted out, we still had a degree of flexibility with our other operations. With CTF every operation on the field needs planning and implementation. The message here is regardless of good planning, the process will likely take time in order to sort out all the variables.

The second comment is that there truly is a lack of support in this sector. There is a degree of frustration in that for the most part you are working counter to most current trends in agriculture. The one exception is precision ag. but even there we are still ahead of the adoption curve and seeking solutions that are not priorities for that sector. The biggest frustration is working through compatibility and serviceability issues.

A third comment is that there is a certain degree of frustration with the fact that our system somewhat ties our hands down the road. This is not an issue that can’t be dealt with but will be a factor in adoption. We are in an industry that is continually evolving and putting restrictions on that will not be welcome.

This leads into the fourth comment and that is it takes a strong conviction and dedication to move forward in something that has yet to prove its value in our conditions. This conviction and dedication needs to be by all involved. I look forward to the day that we can show the consequences of doing things right or wrong. These comments only reinforce the need for the project and a focus to make sure we do things right.

The project
It would seem that maybe Mother Nature wasn’t keen on CTF as it brought its full fury to our project field. Our runoff in the spring did some severe erosion and washed enough sediment down in the field that it actually changed the flow of water. This created some extra ponding that had to be dealt with. We did manage to seed the crop without too much difficulty although we did get stuck a few times and found traction with our seeding system was an issue. The seeding unit worked fine although with all new equipment there were some start up and operations issues. Although we used two-year-old high germ seed we did run into some areas of the field where the seed literally rotted in the field.

The crop eventually started coming around but was then hit with a 4-inch deluge of rain and hail that left drifts in the field on July 11. Hail damage came in at over 80% on the balance of the field. We were then forced to weigh some different options of how to proceed. It was decided that we would silage the northeast corner of the field that was the check part of the field (26 acres). Silaging happened about mid August after the field had a chance to dry a little. By this time the majority of the field had stooled out and left us with two stages of growth.

We then tried to pick a time to desiccate the rest of the field at a time where we hoped the late growth would shrivel up and be blown out the back of the combine. We combined a small patch ahead of the field and found our next issue. The field was loaded with ergot and well above levels even for feed. On harvest completion we delivered the grain to Clive seed clean plant where the ergot was separated. It was interesting that after thins and ergot were removed the remaining crop graded a #2 and was high protein. Estimated yield was about 25 bushels to the acre. We did some renovation of water runs fall 2011 and proceeded to fall band nitrogen and potash requirements. The field is slated for feed barley in 2012. We did not do yield for the field but do have yield data for the CTF area.

CTF for the farm
It was our intent to move forward quickly on the balance of the farm implementing CTF but that plan has had a major re-think. It was felt that with the investment and the fact that it will take time regarding the compaction issue to resolve itself that the correct strategy was to implement quickly. We have now taken a more conservative approach for the following reasons. Our biggest issue that arose was that when we finally got our swather (30 ft.) home and started fall operations we discovered that the table was a few inches smaller than that of the combine tables. This became an issue in canola where we found we were leaving some strips in the field. The fact that we never resolved our swather auto steer issue did not help this situation. We feel that the option of using the swather was important so we have decided that for the balance of the farm we are going to establish new tram lines based on a narrower seeder width (29.6 vs. 29.10 feet). We will maintain the CTF plot as is and if necessary straight cut canola when it is in the rotation.

This changing of widths means we need to start over for next year.

The next issue is that we want to use the disk drill for canola and we have a large acreage next year. Finally we have about 600 acres of hay and sod breaking for which we also want to use the Salford drill. We are currently quite concerned that with the lack of heat units we have experienced the last two years there is a need to seed as quickly as possible in the spring. Therefore the plan is working more around keeping both seeding units going and getting the job done quickly. In a year’s time we feel we will be in a better position to implement more CTF. For 2012 we plan on bringing one more field (175 acres) into CTF.

Equipment and issues
Fendt tractor
We bought a Fendt front wheel assist as our CTF tractor and would say that we are very happy with this decision.

Pentagon Farm Center was very good to us and exchanged back axles and got us the axle extensions for the front to get to a 120-inch wheel gauge. The tractor has performed well and has seen a lot of use. The fast highway speed has shaved down time but makes us feel like turtles in other equipment. The spools on the front have worked fine with no problems but we have a wheel seal to fix at the end of the season. If we do have any issues it is one of traction and in this very wet year we did have problems pulling the drill. The compact design of the drill is good for transport but can put the tractor and drill in wet spots at same time. We are not sure if this will be an ongoing issue or how we will address it. The tractor worked very well on the grain cart.

Salford 522 double disk seeder.
The drill we purchased also performed very well. We did have to go to a different tire on the rear of the drill to get to our 120-inch wheel gauge. We are not sure if this impacted our pulling issue but should improve as our tramlines harden. The drill is well built and we have had no breakage issues until late this fall when we bent two openers that hit a large rock. One thing we don’t like is the distance needed to turn around on headlands. This is because of the two tank, two rank system. We have in fact increased our headland length to accommodate the drill. The seed metering was good although we plan to add a slow meter kit for canola. The drill has worked fine being run by the Trimble FMX but we do plan to add run blockage sensors over the winter 2011. The stainless steel meter rolls are a plus as are the plastic tanks but we do have some caulking to be redone on the tank.

Our drill is set up with cutting coulters running just ahead of the seed disks and just off to the side of the seed disk. We are starting to question the value of these coulters as their only true value is to cut straw ahead of the seed disks.

While for the most part it does that and that has a value the question become is that the right place and right tool for the job. At higher speeds the coulters will move more soil and if that is what you want then maybe the coulters would be better on a different unit. We also found that in extremely hard conditions the coulters tend to carry some weight of the drill and that can impact penetration of the disks.

For the most part the sprayer, which we already owned, has worked fine. Since we had extended the booms out to 96 to tramline off another drill we just purchased four blank caps for reducing the width for spraying CTF fields. An issue that arose was that you needed to trick the controller settings as the controller would not allow changing boom configurations once you started the field. We still need to do a little work getting boom configurations set right. We are still having issues with auto steer and tramlines. It would seem that when we got into side hills the auto steer would want to climb off the tramlines. This could be caused by some different issues: tilt, yaw, drift of the drill, etc. From the old school if you have good tramlines it’s easy to follow manually. Our plan is to add crop dividers to give us a little more leeway.

A thank you to Hammer New Holland who flipped our drive tires (900’s) to get us to a 120-inch wheel gauge. We moved steering wheels so they followed the outside of front tire, which gave us some more frame clearance. They also set us up with unload auger extensions. We found we can hit the grain cart following tramlines although we are not quite centered on the cart. We could use another one or two feet to center. We did set up the combine with auto steer and installed our own New Holland kit. This was quite a process as it took us a few times to get the right cabling and then quite a process to get it running properly. The biggest issue was we could not get the RTK signal into the Intelliview. We think there is a solution that we will pursue over winter. We did have a steering ram breakdown near end of harvest so have some repairs to do there.

Other issues
We are currently using Easy Steer on the Fendt because it was not auto steer ready from the factory. We feel we are making a compromise using this system so are planning to upgrade to Easy Pilot (electric steer) when the bracket becomes available for Fendt. We have struggled with the precision farming aspect of CTF. We have a number of different systems and they all come with their own issues. The hope is that we will be able to standardize over time but that is not as easy as it sounds. Support is often poor and we have issues that some others don’t deal with. For the most part the Slingshot system (RTK correction) has worked well but it does add cost when you are running multiple units. We will be looking at own base station options. We are looking at some options in terms of guidance in the field and are planning to improve visual referencing as a back up to GPS and guidance. Our plan is to move openers at the center of the drill so that we have visual reference on each 30 foot run. We are still not sure how we plan to handle tramlines but will continue with sprayer tramlines for sure.

Our experiment with paired rows on the drill (7.5 and 12.5 inches) does not look like it will give us enough room to put the two rows between stubble next year. We had not counted on how much the crop spreads out. We will likely move to straight ten inch spacing for next year but remain intrigued by the paired row concept. If we were to move to putting openers on both ranks of the drill and removing the cutting coulters we would open up lots of options. We are still pursuing the planter concept for canola and that may come into play on our row spacing issues down the road.

We have also come across an issue as it relates to the combine. Our custom combiner was not in a good mood this fall and it looks like this will become an issue if we increase CTF acres. We started to look at combine options and have become concerned that if we go to bigger combine capacity 30 feet may not be wide enough to keep the combine at capacity. In terms of one machine it will work much better with yield monitoring, etc.

We currently cover about 200 acres a year with liquid pig manure on the farm. Custom application does not work well with CTF. Hail ran us head on into the issue this year and silage and baling don’t work well for CTF. I make these comments because they will arise at sometime.

May 7, 2012
By Craig Shaw Durango Farms Lacombe
Fendt with wheel extensions We completed year one of both the CTF (Controlled Traffic Farming) project and also implementation of controlled traffic on our farming operation in 2011.