Agronomy Library > Soil Conservation

No New Equipment for Move to “Real” Zero-Till - Curtis Mcminis, Mannville
Author: Helen McMenamin
Date Created: September 16, 2003
Last Reviewed: September 16, 2003

“The best thing you can do for a crop is to give it a good start,” says Curtis Mcminis. “After that there’s not all that much you can do for it.”

The farmer from Mannville, just west of Vermillion, has been direct seeding since he came back to the farm 6 years ago. Last year, he switched to the low disturbance seeding system he calls real zero-till –fitting Atom-Jet openers and Technotill packing plates on his air-seeder.
As much as he can, Mcminis takes advantage of his neighbors’ experience when he’s choosing equipment.

”The farmers in this area are very progressive,” he says. “Zero-till has really taken off in the last 10 years, and in the last 5, it’s become standard. I’ve seen that low disturbance seeding gives the crops a better start, so I’ve looked pretty hard at a few systems.
“I chose the Technotill system because I like the way it places the seed on an undisturbed seedbed with the fertilizer above and to one side of the seed row.
“The Technotill system places the seed on undisturbed soil at the bottom of the opener furrow, carbide burs grade moist soil over top of the seed row and the skid plate packs 1/4 to 3/8 inch of soil over it. You set seeding depth with the cultivator so you can seed to moisture and to suit the crop. You can change packing depth too but it’s more work. Generally it’s set when the system is put on the seeding tool.”
“Placing the seed on the firm seedbed and then packing moist soil around it gives great seed to soil contact,” says Mcminis. “The rest of the soil in the furrow is just loose dirt that’s easy for the seedling to come through.”
Fertilizer runs by the packing plate to lie above and to the side of the seed row. It works well for Mcminis with his liquid fertilizer and other farmers have success with dry fertilizer. He prefers liquid fertilizer because it’s the easiest and cheapest system for modified equipment. It also allows him to use the full capacity of his air-tank for seed, so he can seed twice the acreage on a fill.
“There’s a cost to it, but it’s convenient,” says Mcminis. “The fertilizer dealer brings the liquid cart and three full tanks. I just hook up to the cart and go, everything’s already serviced and ready to go.”
Using a skid plate as his packing tool hasn’t given Mcminis any problems. The plate scoured clean. If his clay soil does stick to the plate in a wet spring, Technotill has a polymer-coated plate that can be installed with a single bolt.
“It’s a totally different way to think about seeding,” he says. “But I’m sure it’s better than breaking the seedbed and then trying to repack it from above. Something like the ConservaPak with its separate grooves for seed and fertilizer is attractive, but it’s a much more costly option. This system cost about the same as a set of packer wheels. We have less than 1000 acres and there’s not much chance to expand close to home, so most of my equipment is used. I can’t justify a new air drill.”
Last year was the first time Mcminis used his new seeding system and although the drought didn’t allow him to harvest any crop, he’s convinced low disturbance seeding gave his crop an edge.
“We had good surface moisture, but no subsoil moisture at all last spring,” he says. “Our crops started off looking good, but we never did get any rain and the crops just petered out. By the end of June, Our crops and all the others around here, were written

off. The crops seeded with low disturbance hung on longer, though.”
Mcminis’ air seeder is an Ezee-On with 12 inch row spacing giving him some advantages in dealing with residue. He grows malt barley, linola, canola and hard red wheat. He’s had good luck with Prodigy wheat and Stratus barley has done well for him. He plans to make peas a part of his rotations as soon as good seed is available at a reasonable price. Mcminis deals with residue in the fall. He uses pre-harvest Roundup to control quackgrass and Canada thistle – his worst weeds. Then he takes a little extra time with harvest rather than using heavy harrows to spread straw after harvest.
“My seeding equipment has 12 inch spacing, so it goes through quite a lot of trash,” he says. “But I like to deal with residue as I harvest. I put a more aggressive chopper on my combine and it spreads the straw quite well. I straight-cut a little lower than a lot of people so I’m putting more material through the combine, and it loses a little speed, but it means I don’t have to harrow. To me, that’s a more economical way to go. I have time to harvest a little slower because I don’t have that many acres.”
Flax straw is more challenging. Rather than fight it, Mcminis gives it away. Neighbors who have cattle bale it and use the bales to build windbreaks for cattle in open areas. Once the straw has aged for a year or two, the cattle eat the windbreaks.
The solutions Mcminis has found may be different from most farmers’ choices, but they fit his small acreage.