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Drill advancements dig deeper

Washington wheat grower Tim Smith isn’t waiting around for new technology to come his way.

As a research technician at the Lind Dryland Research Station, he’s a pivotal figure in developing a new deep-furrow drill, which won’t make his farming easier, but will make it better.

New funding and prototypes, which emerged recently, are advancing the quest for a new drill for deep furrow use.

For a year, a coalition of growers, researchers and fabricators has tried building the kind of drill growers need but isn’t offered by big manufacturers like John Deere and International. While drills are available that growers have been using, the green and red drills are wearing out for many, and they want to create a version fit for their specific needs.

Key Points

Work is advancing on deep-furrow drill prototypes.

New funding is helping to pay for the materials.

Larger packer wheels with a greater slope length are undergoing tests.


Focus meetings in 2010 resulted in agreement that the new rig must easily pass through and retain 30% or more surface residue after seeding and work successfully in tough planting conditions. The prototype also has to plant seed as deep or deeper than existing commercial drills, and produce yields as good or better than are now achieved.

“This effort has really turned into something great,” says Smith. That’s because early versions have already been tried out.

Growers on the “drill team” want a unit that is easily adaptable to the varying conditions faced by mid-state Washington wheat producers, and it must have a larger-diameter packer wheel.

Some early versions of the wheel are extremely big compared to commercial versions. The target of a bigger wheel is to reduce soil residue and improve
pass-through residue.

Slope changes

They also are designing wheels with a longer angle of slope to reduce rollback into furrows, and build more stability into the furrows themselves.

A cutting tool such as a large-diameter fluted coulter in front of openers to cut through heavy residue, if needed, is also on the drawing board. Alternative row spacing other than the existing 16- to 18-inch types are also in the plans to clear heavy residue and leave furrow ridges protected with residue.

Testing a first-design prototype at the Lind station last year, growers saw their first results mounted on an existing plot drill frame. “This was just a test, but it did meet the requirement of being easily adaptable to varying conditions,” says Smith.

Already, 36-inch packers have made it to the testing stage, offering about 10 inches beyond the conventional size. Test packers were built with a 9-inch length of slope, roughly 4 to 6 inches more than offered commercially today.

“These things look huge,” says Smith. “I see them every day and they still stop me” because of the larger-than-traditional packer sizes. “They push a lot of dirt.”

The “quick-and-dirty” prototype was put together quickly for the station field day last year, notes Smith. “We wanted to have something growers could see,” he explains. A maiden voyage of the test configuration in May 2010 packed in heavy amounts of residue. “I really liked this,” says Smith, “but some people saw it as a problem.”

A big plus for the project emerged in 2010 when the Columbia Plateau PM10 Project decided to finance material costs for the project, with Lind station personnel like Smith and two others providing the labor.

“We’ve got a lot of things to try in 2011,” says Smith.

Deep-seed drills also in the works

The McGregor Co. is also working on enhancing deep-seed drills, using a coulter hair-pinned off to the side to improve residue handling without cutting. “That’s something we at Lind didn’t even consider,” says Tim Smith, a Lind Dryland Research Station technician.

A row-spacing experiment is under way at Lind and on a Ritzville area farm looking at yields and weed competition, says Smith. At the same time, prototypes are being evaluated to document scientifically the status of the drill. “We have to back up our work in a journal because that is what the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be looking at for possible funding,” says Smith. Conservation Innovative Grants funding could come to the task team if NRCS likes what they see.

Look for a large-scale replicated field experiment with prototypes on a Ritzville farm in the near future “to really put these things to the test,” says Smith.

The station has four prototypes to test at this time, and McGregor and other units will be looked at in the big trial. J.E. Love and Blake Manufacturing companies are also working on drill improvements.

Smith hopes for new funding to emerge to finance this trial.


This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.