A seven-page special editorial package R i d g e t i l l a g e s o a r s i n a s t a g n a n t e c o n o m y By Rich Fee, Senior Crops and Soils Editor 9 ^ !. It * <s*» « ;ht If nesota, Cottonwood County has 11% crop production practices.T he tremendous growth rate of ridge tillage is something of an of its corn and soybeans on ridges. "Switching to ridging is probably enigma, even to people long fa- So it goes throughout much of the the major change many farmers havemiliar with the system. In Indiana, the Com Belt. Ridge tillage—planting on made in their cropping system in thenumber of acres in ridge tillage has ridges made the year before with the last 20 years, or will make in the nextbeen doubling each year since 1981. cultivator—just keeps growing despite 10," says Gyles Randall, a UniversityThe number of acres on ridges nearly the current economic crunch, or, as of Minnesota soil scientist.tripled from 1983 to 1984 in Illinois. some would argue, because of the Almost without exception, peopleStory County, Iowa, now has 8% of its crunch. And ridging keeps growing familiar with ridge tillage acknowl-com and soybeans on ridges. In Min- even though it is a radical change in edge the practice is growing faster Continued on next pageS C E SU F R I G J N A Y 1 8 U CSF L A M , A U R , 96 N 11
Ridge tillage soarsin a stagnanteconomyContinued from previous page Jim Zenk, Danube, Minnesota, resumed ridging in 1985 in order to cut costs.than they would have predicted just the economy is hastening the adop- Corn Belt. The number of ridge-tilltwo or three years ago. tion of ridge tillage. "Its not fun and acres in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Bob Dayton, conservation agrono- games out there," he says. "Farmers Illinois and Indiana jumped frommist with the Soil Conservation Ser- are trying to keep input costs down 730,000 in 1983 to 1,105,000 invice (SCS) in Iowa, says, "I worked in any way they can because thats about 1984, according to the 1984 Conser-Boone County, Iowa, awhile and the only control they have over net vation Tillage Information Centerwatched Ernie Behn [one of the pio- income right now. And ridge tillage (CTIC) survey. Thats a 51% increaseneers of ridge tillage], so I saw the promises to reduce machinery, fuel, in acres. However, when the figurespotential. But, I didnt expect ridging labor and herbicide costs." are adjusted to account for the num-to grow as fast as it has." Just as many people believe the ber of acres idled by PIK in 1983, the "Not only is ridging growing faster sour ag economy is preventing, or at annual growth rate is about 20%.than most of us expected," says Dick least discouraging, some farmers fromDickerson, SCS conservation agrono- purchasing the equipment needed to Nebraska leading statemist in Illinolis, "but farmers have make the switch. Nebraska had more acres of corngone ahead and adopted it on their Dave Breitbach, conservation and soybeans on ridges than any otherown, without a lot of promotion from agronomist with the SCS in Minneso- state in 1984—342,000—and it hadourselves or anybody else." ta, says, "We just dont have producers the highest percentage of total corn investing in new cultivators, ridge and soybean acres on ridges. Minne-Effect of economy mixed planters or ridge-shaving attachments sota, with 322,000 acres, was second There are conflicting opinions on for planters like they would if the in both of those categories in 1984.whether the current economic crunch economy was growing." Iowa had 229,000; Indiana hadis hastening or slowing the trend to While there is no concensus on the 135,000, Illinois had 76,000; Southridge tillage. Many people believe the effect of the economy on adoption, Dakota had 46,000; Ohio had 35,000.tight economy is accelerating the theres no denying the large amount Results of CTICs 1985 tillage sur-adoption rate because farmers are of interest in ridging. "If we had just vey, available soon, will undoubtedlyanxious to cut production costs any half as many people practicing ridge show another big increase in acreage.way they can. tillage as we have interested in it, It looks like Minnesota had 20% Bruce Julian, field specialist with thered be a lot more acres on ridges," more acres on ridges in 1985 than in the Conservation Tillage Information says Randall. 1984—385,000 versus 322,000. That Center, is among those who believe Most of the ridging activity is in the means two and one-half percent of Wayne Arthur, Hindsboro, Illinois, built ridges in 1984, and now sells Orthman ridging equipment. it ^000t •
Minnesotas 12.5 million acres of corn the nature of questions has shiftedand beans were raised on ridges. from "What is ridging?" to "How do I Iowa had 277,000 acres on ridges make it work?"in 1985, 21% more than in 1984. "Two or three years ago, we had Despite an impressive growth rate people asking how the planter made ain many areas, ridging lags in other ridge," he explains. "Now, theyre ask-areas apparently well-suited to the ing detailed questions on such thingspractice. What seems to be missing in as fertilizer placement with ridging."those areas is a catalyst—someone to And many farmers are now the truespark interest as Ernie Behn did in experts on ridge tillage. "Some ofIowa, and Mel Boyer did in northeast- these guys not only make a living fromem Indiana and Dan Towery did in ridge tillage, they eat, breath and sleepeast-central Illinois. it," says Joe Peden, SCS conservation Without neighbors to turn to, many agronomist in Indiana. "Theyre nowridgers have sought moral support the most knowledgable people aboutand knowledge through ridge tillage the system."clubs, which have sprung up like Along with the knowledge hasmushrooms after a spring rain. come a change in attitude. "Many peo- Thanks to these clubs, the farm ple who were totally negative towardpress and field days and meetings ridging two or three years ago aresponsored by industry or government loosening up," says Hartley Ellingson, Faced with a labor shortage as his boys grew up, Darrell Hennin, Bird Island, Min-organizations, the knowledge level sales promotion engineer with nesota, saw ridging as a way to reduceamong farmers about ridge tillage has Alloway. "The waiting and watching his labor needs and other crop produc-recently increased dramatically. phase is about over. Rather than up- tion costs at the same time. Dale Kumpf, Fleischer Mfg., says date when their conventional equip- ment wears out, a lot of well- Dickerson wouldnt be surprised to established farmers will switch to see ridge tillage surpass no-till in Illi-Perry Butler, Cosmos, Minnesota, re- ridging." nois, which has more no-till acres thanplaced an aging line of conventional any other state. "There are very fewequipment with a ridge planter and culti- Economics the motivator no-tillers—even experienced ones—vator. "I figured if I didnt switch now, Id Who is switching? "By and large, its who commit 100% of their acres tohave to wait another 7 to 10 years." farmers who have figured costs down no-till. But with ridge tillage, a farmer to the penny and are excellent manag- may start small one year then jump to ers," says Randall. 100% within the next year or two. Glenn Olson, of Product and Mar- When you have several farmers ket Planning for John Deere, which switching 1,000-1,500 acres a year, just began marketing a ridge-shaving that makes for significant increases unit and cultivator (a move which each year." [_3 some say puts a "stamp-of-approval" on ridging in many peoples minds), Brainerd Wein, Renville, Minnesota, and agrees, "By and large the people his two partners sold their four-wheel- drive tractor and switched to ridging on adopting ridging are hard-headed more than 3,000 acres. businessmen looking for ways to keep production costs as low as possible." With the rapid growth of ridging a surprise to many, and the effects of the economy hard to pinpoint, no one is very confident with predicting what the future holds for ridge tillage. In the short run, most observers expect it to increase at about the current rate. Randall thinks 30% of Minnesotas corn and soybeans could be on ridges by the year 2000. "But," he adds, "Im not sure it will go much over that. The chisel system is pretty flexible, and we have some drilled crops and steep slopes in some areas that dont lend themselves to the ridge system."
Ridging economics S p a r t a n m a c h i n e r y l i n e u p s g i v e r i d g e r s t h e e d g e Overall, Binstock feels hes saving at least $20 per acre annually in total costs compared to conventional tillage. Pinning down specific cost savings is a bit more difficult be- cause of year-to-year variations. To start with, he lopped about $15,000 off his crop- production equipment inventory. Total value of the equip- ment pictured at left (excluding the combine) is just under $80,000. Depreciation, interest, taxes and insurance comes to about $10.40 per acre on crop production equipment. That compares to approximately $12.50 per acre for his conventional tillage equipment. Fuel savings come to $3.45 per acre. His 12-row equip- ment and four-wheel-drive efficiency both help keep fuel costs low, Binstock says. He cites other farmers with the same acreage using two-wheel-drive tractors and 6-row equipment who use 20-25% more fuel. Repairs are another area of big savings. "Our repair costs have dropped drastically," Binstock says. "We figure theyre about half the cost they were before because were using fewer pieces of equipment and have reduced our trips over the field." Other production costs drop When he went to ridging, Binstock started sidedressing anhydrous—so he cut his application rate 10%—from 150 pounds down to 135 pounds per acre. By putting the nitrogen on closer to when the com needs it, hes not losing as much N. He also saves another $1.80 per acre. Banding his grass herbicide with the planter saves anoth- er $7 per acre. Since he cultivates anyway, he can get by with banding. Perhaps the biggest total saving for Binstock is in part- time labor. With his conventional operation, he was hiring one or two part-time people in spring and fall. Depending on the year and the season, that meant an extra $4,000- $8,000 per year. Now he and his wife handle everything themselves. Eliminating an average of $6,000 annually for part-time labor, he saves another $4.80 per acre. Binstocks conversion costs Equipment purchasesLeonard Binstock with his total equipment inventory 12-row Hiniker cultivator w/NH 3 attachments $14,500 Ridging attachments for 12-row IH planterLeonard Binstock shaves (Acra-Plant trash whippers, Hiniker v-guidance wheels, stabilizing disks) $3,400production costs $ 2 0 an acre Versatile 555 4WD w/duals (net w/trade-in) $12,000 Total bought $29,900By Mike Holmberg, Associate Crops & Soils Editor Equipment traded for Versatile tractor 1977 IH 4386 4WD, 225 hp. ts hard to justify investing in new equipment in order to 1974 IH 1066, 125 hp.f change tillage systems when the price of com is headed down. But Leonard Binstock did just that. In fact, theprospect of lower corn support prices made him switch Equipment sold at auction IH Super C JD 4430 w/duals $1,080 $11,400three years earlier than he had planned. 35-foot Wilrich field cultivator $4,250 Binstock figures it cost about $4,700 in net, out-of-pock- 33-foot multiweeder $800et costs to convert his 12-row system to ridge till. But his 22-foot Kewaunee disk $2,450fuel use dropped from about 7.5 gallons per acre to 3.85. 2 gravity wagons $2,875With 1,250 acres, that amounts to more than $4,300 per Miscellaneous parts and inventory $2,375year in fuel savings. Total sold $25,23014 S C E SU F R I G J N A Y 1 8 U C S F L A M , A U R , 96 N
Binstocks switch to ridge tillage looks pretty straightfor- or running bigger, more expensive equipment. ward—he bought what he needed and sold what he didnt. Ridge tillage is a time-saver. University of Nebraska agri- But it wasnt an overnight conversion. The first step was cultural engineer Elbert Dickey figures you can realize a getting a combine with tires spaced on 120-inch centers. 40% savings on labor by ridge planting rather than mold- Then he went looking for a tractor. Using a four-wheel- board plowing. Importantly, that labor savings is split be- drive tractor for row crops may look a bit unusual, but tween fall, when harvest often delays primary tillage, and Binstock likes it. He knew he wanted to stick with 12-row spring, when secondary tillage can delay planting. equipment—and needed a tractor with enough hydraulic capacity to handle the ridging equipment. "That 12-row Getting started cultivator with anhydrous attachments weighs around Bohlen charted his entry into agriculture thinking like a 12,000 pounds. You dont find many two-wheel-drive trac- banker—easy enough for him to do since his off-farm job is tors with enough hydraulic capacity to pick up 12,000 managing The Bank of Findlay (Illinois). pounds with a three-point hitch." Two years ago, Bohlens father was ready to retire and Since he liked his IH 800 planter, Binstock felt if he Greg wanted to take over the operation near Moweaqua, Il- could add attachments to convert it to ridge planting, it linois. "But, I just didnt see any way I could make it pencil would be foolish to spend another $20,000-25,000 on a out if I had to buy all of my fathers equipment, and farm new planter. Instead he spent $3,400 in conversion costs. using a lot of tillage. "Im very capital conscious," he adds. "Ive seen a lot of farming operations fail because of high capital costs. So, I Ridgings lower costs let was convinced that if I was going to make a go of it in farm- ing, I was going to have to keep my capital costs as low as Greg Bohlen start farming possible." Ridging, which Bohlen and his dad had experi- mented with on a few acres, seemed to offer the best way of By Rich Fee, Senior Crops and Soils Editor holding capital costs down. So, Bohlen picked the items he wanted to purchase from his father, who then sold the rest. lthough not one of "Im operating basically the same size farm my father 4 1 i tthe large acreage operated," says Bohlen, "and he was able to sell $45,000 1ffarmers that typify the worth of machinery at his auction." new breed of ridge tiller, Greg Bohlen is a textbook Low-cost equipment example of another type of Bohlen figures his total machinery lineup is worth about farmer that economists say $80,000—$177 per acre farmed. "Thats higher than it can benefit substantially should be," he says, "but I could farm another 200 acres from ridge tillage. For one with the same equipment, and I do need to be able to plant thing, he is a beginning a lot of acres fast. If I were farming conventionally with the farmer. For another, he is a time Ive got available, I would have to have more work cus- part-time farmer (with 450 tom done or go to a four-wheel-drive tractor and bigger acres to cover in a hurry). equipment." As a beginning farmer, Bohlen does virtually everything with one tractor—a Bohlen was faced with a John Deere 4440 (he does have an IH M for the auger). large front-end investment He has an IH 500 mounted planter modified with Kinze Greg Bohlen and heavy debt load if he planting units and Hiniker ridge-shaving units. He also has purchased a line of conven- a late-model Buffalo 8-row cultivator, stalk chopper, high- tional farming equipment. Bohlen wouldnt have been buy- clearance sprayer for applying 2,4-D late in the season, and ing new equipment, but figures developed by Iowa an old lightweight disk. He rented a chisel plow last fall to economists show what a beginning farmer considering new work end rows and tear out some crooked ridges. equipment is faced with, and the savings made possible by Quite a few dollars are tied up in harvesting equipment, ridging. They compared annual ownership costs for the which he would need regardless of tillage system. He has a machinery needed to farm 600 acres in a com/soybean JD 7700 combine, two grain trucks, and two augers. rotation. Eliminating some implements and downsizing Bohlen used 2 gallons of fuel per acre up to harvest last others resulted in reducing ownership costs from $51.95 season. He figures he would have used 4 or 5 gallons with per acre with the conventional moldboard plow system to conventional tillage. Repairs were unusually high because $38.52 per acre with the ridge tillage system. On 600 acres, he modified several pieces of equipment. Further savings this reduced machinery costs approximately $8,000 per resulted from banding a grass herbicide on com, then com- year, based on 1982 costs. ing back with 2,4-D as needed. He bands both grass and As a part-time farmer, Bohlen has plenty of things be- broadleaf herbicides on soybeans. sides tillage to occupy his time. Generally speaking, he "I got into ridging because of the economics," he con- needs to be able to cover more acres in a day than a full- cludes. "Im staying with it because it also solves so many time farmer with the same size farm, either by cutting trips other problems." E_j. S C E SU F R I G J N A Y 1 8 U CSF L A M , A U R , 96 N 15
Beyond the blacksmith-shop eraN e w i r o n f o r r i d g e t i l l a g eBy Charlene Finck, Assistant Machinery Editor B r i d g e tillage equipment and its manufacturing ridge tillage equip- With recent equipment advance-mJ availability have both come a ment. Farmers, such as Iowa ridging ments and more farmers adopting• • long way in just a few years. pioneer Ernie Behn, began making ridge tillage, new trends are unfolding.Until 1980, Fleischer Manufacturings and selling their own design of planter And as they do, it seems that whenBuffalo line pioneered the idea and attachments. And John Deere recently one company capitalizes on it, severalgained a comer on the market. For 20 became the first full-line equipment of their competitors often^follow suit.years, their only competition was manufacturer to enter the market byfarmer-fabricators who built their own offering a ridge-shaving unit (built by Are disk hillers over the hill?ridging equipment and maybe sold Hiniker) and a cultivator. Cultivator disk hillers that buildsome to neighbors. At last count there were 10 compa- ridges are finding themselves being re- Competition sprang to life when nies selling either planters or ridge- placed by ridging wings. Designed toHiniker Company introduced their shaving planter attachments, and 17 push the soil rather than throw it,ridge planter packages—a step many companies offering cultivators. wings are credited with building bettermark as a turning point for ridging. Of course, that count does not in- ridges. Most of them can be raised out "We saw more improvements in clude others like Paul Kirchner of of the way by repositioning a pin orridging equipment in the three years Dundee, Minnesota, who capitalized bolt. Some, like those offered by Buf-following Hinikers introduction than on the aftermarket. Kirchner, who falo, are adjustable to different widths.wed seen in the previous 15 years," farms and operates a repair shop,says Sam Parsons, Purdue University manufactures Straddle Duals for com- Tall shields offer versatilityagricultural engineer. bines, which help preserve ridges dur- Companies report that tall, open- Even Buffalo is quick to point out ing harvest. top shields are starting to dominatethe acceleration of changes and im-provements. Dale Kumpf, inside salesrepresentative, echoes Parsons com-ment. "Were a better company be-cause they came in," he says.A race for the ridging market For a few years Hiniker and Buffalowere the only ridging equipment man-ufacturers, but it wasnt long until adrove of companies were clamoring toget a slice of the growing demand. "Ridging equipment is one of thefew things thats selling so companieswant to cut into the market," says JimJohnson, Hiniker product manager. Companies who historically hadnothing to do with tillage tools startedHinikers new ridge-till tractor Buffalos adjustable ridging wings Dakons version of open-top shields the cultivator-shield market. Versatility is why. The shields are less limiting on the height of crop that can be cultivat- ed, and are usually fully adjustable— up and down as well as in and out. Shaving units break the ice Farmers are finding it easier to ven- ture into ridge tillage by adding ridge- shaving units to their present planter rather than by purchasing a complete ridge-till planter. Going that route means making only a $500-a-row in- vestment. This compares to approxi- mately a $2,000-a-row cost for buying an entire planter. Kumpf says sales of Buffalo planter attachments soared last year. "We def- initely sold them beyond what we had S C E SU F R I G J N A Y 1 8 U C S F L A M , A U R , 96 N
Rolling b a s k e t s break up clods Innovative farmers have often taken the lead in pioneering ridge tillage equipment. Many of their ideas and inventions have found their way onto manufacturers equipment. Someday you might see rolling baskets similar to these designed by Dave Park coming out on commercially available equipment. The Towanda, Illinois farmer add- ed the baskets to his ridging cultivator to break up clods during the first cultivation. "I was tired of clods caus- . •,•..0i%: " I ..: : ing problems during soybean harvest. The cultivator sweeps > >, "*»_a__i *_ *... _t were making clods—and once hardened—were being picked up by the snouts on the combine," says Park. After using them for one season, he says the baskets % V took care of the problem— and more. They gently pack the soil between the ridges, creating a moisture-saving mulch that keeps the soil SSi from drying out so quickly. Breaking up the clods also •J^ • M^S^M* •^-r/.._- 7 * % ^^r*-- )^S»*9vi-p i v * ^ s - Vyf-^C^ _#*; k M_John Deere recently began marketing this ridge-shaving unit Rolling baskets in actionexpected because we were robbing Companies will be making equip- makes it easier to build bettershow machines to fill orders." ment, especially cultivators, multipur- ridges for the next year. pose. An indication of this, which can At the time when he need- ,Whats in the crystal ball? already be seen, is the increasing num- ed them, Park was too busy f Experts predict that every major ber of companies offering nurse-tank to make them himself so he Iequipment company will be offering and fertilizer hitches for cultivators. had a local machine shop Jsome kind of ridging equipment with- Right now the most common size of build them. Small steel rods %in the next five years. Deeres entering equipment being sold is 8- and 12- welded onto round metal |the market is only the beginning. row, but dont be surprised to see a lot disks form the baskets. I * At the same time, the number of more 10-row machines in the future. A four-piece attachment ! |companies competing in the market Interest in 10-row equipment is grow- mounts the baskets directly § 8will probably thin out. "Typical with ing as farmers become more con- behind the cultivator shanks. <± 1any new technology, the cream of the scious of controlling field traffic. Flat pieces of metal are used ja |companies will filter to the top and It is still uncertain what the future to bolt them tightly onto the %&stay while the others drop by the way- holds for Hinikers ridging tractor. The shanks. ffside," explains Parsons. prototype pictured on the opposite An old cultivator spring Q* - Guidance systems are expected to page was introduced last year, but the puts tension on the basketsbe a hot sales item in the future. They company is still doing testing and re- and allows them to flex withalso will become more sophisticated. searching its market potential. E 3 changing terrain.S C E SU F R I G J N A Y 1 8 U CSF L A M , A U R , 96 N 17