Protecting Alfalfa from Wheel Traffic

Flat fields have been replaced by 40-inch beds where balers straddle three rows.

Published on: Mar 22, 2006

Although the cost would be substantial at the outset, Elmore Farms knew that over the long haul the investment would be well worth the savings in both planting cost and soil preservation.

When limiting much of the harvest and post-harvest wheel traffic over their alfalfa, these Imperial Valley, Calif., growers extend the life of their alfalfa by eliminating irrigation scalding and harvest damage caused to re-growth. It all began as a way to prevent sun-scalding caused by the first post-harvest irrigation in this land of searing desert sun. "It saves the re-growth from burning up," says Craig Elmore.

To prevent their tractors, mowers and other machinery from crushing the crop, the Elmores have had to make changes. For one, they have gone from traditional flat fields to 40-inch beds. Instead of a single- or two-line planter they went to six. "We just modified a Case International grain drill," says Elmore. "We attached it to a four-row sled … What that does is allow the hay to stay up out of the water. Because of that we get very long stand lives."

Equipment modification

Initially the farm tried to modify its balers so they ran on 80-inch spacings, but couldn't make the modification because of the difficulty in adjusting the pickup. They got close, but the expense made it prohibitive, Elmore says. "Now our balers are modified and set at 120 inches so we straddle three rows."

Normally on the bale-chamber side of the baler is a large tire and on the other side two smaller tires. The two smaller tires, the ones away from the bale chamber, are run in tandems that track behind the tractor that's tires are set on 80-inch centers.

"So basically we're not running over any of the alfalfa, we're down in the furrows," says Ranch Manager Ray Blevins.  

"A bit on the shoulder, but not on top," Elmore says. "The only thing that runs on top of the bed are the swathers." The Bale Wagons were modified by widening the wheel spacings in back slightly so now they're on 80 inches.

The farm has found inexpensive ways of eliminating extra equipment runs through its fields.  Elmore says with quarter-mile runs, "never is equipment allowed to turn around in the field. The new growth is crushed down and we've eliminated that. We always go to the end."

The tractor pulling the rake runs down the same furrow the baler tractor does. "If the Bale Wagon runs the opposite direction of the baler when picking up hay, and it's running down the same two rows the baler tractor does, you eliminate two extra passes through the field," Elmore says.

The ranch puts up both small and one-ton bales. Among other things, the Elmores have modified their big-bale accumulator so that it can run down the 40-inch furrows. With one-quarter mile runs, bales usually are stacked at each field's end. If baling high tonnage alfalfa, bales sometimes are dumped in the field where there are beds.

"If that's the case," says Elmore, "we basically have a forklift or hay squeeze," to retrieve the bales. "The tractor runs out, squeezes one bale at a time and pulls it back to the end."