Prototype drills prep for tests

of Washington State University This diagram shows the different sizes of coulter blades compared with the 36-inch fluted coulter blades that have been ordered for a prototype seed drill to be tested at the the Lind Field Day on June 17.

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Researchers developing prototypes for a new deep furrow seed drill are preparing for trials to test their designs this summer in Eastern Washington.

Farmers in low-rainfall areas are looking for a drill capable of passing through all sorts of residue without disrupting the soil. The deep furrow drills currently in use are not designed for conservation tillage and disrupt the soil, researchers say.

Bill Schillinger, Washington State University research agronomist in Lind, Wash., is working on one of the prototypes. Colfax, Wash.-based McGregor Co. is working on the other.

No-till summer fallow has not been widely accepted because farmers cannot seed early, Schillinger said. Seeding early is essential to get price premiums, he said, and late plantings result in large yield hits, forcing farmers to till summer fallow.

But farmers tend to use too much tillage, he said, either because they have the wrong implements or fear plugging up their drill at seeding time.

"Seeding winter wheat is the most critical operation they do in the whole year," he said. "We want these farmers to feel comfortable with conservation tillage and residue on the surface, and to be able to seed through that with ease."

Schillinger said the goal is to have a prototype in time for an initial demonstration at the Lind Field Day June 17. Parts, including packer wheels and fluted coulter blades 36 inches in diameter, have been ordered, he said.

McGregor field technician Paul Buchholtz said his prototype is in the concept phase. Several options under consideration may be tested during field trials in Lind, Buchholtz said.

"If it's a benefit for the farmers, that's always a good thing," he said, noting the drill also addresses the impact of wind erosion. "If we can help our farmers and the environment, we feel that's a very good step to be taking."

Schillinger's project received a grant from the Columbia Plateau PM10 Project. Research and testing will cost "quite a bit," he said, so the Washington Conservation Commission is trying to raise further funding.

Buchholtz said no money has been spent yet, as the McGregor Co. is still in the planning stages.

Schillinger said the efforts are complementary, not competitive. He would like to test the prototypes side-by-side, he said.

Further decisions will be based on the results of the Lind trials, Buchholtz said.

"Whichever one produces the best stand in varying conditions, I suppose, will be the one we focus with," he said. "We hope to be able to make a difference."

What farmers are looking for

Based on feedback from farmers at several meetings in November and January, Bill Schillinger, Washington State University research agronomist, said the following priorities were identified:

* Taller packer wheels to reduce soil pushing in deep tillage mulches and to better pass through and retain residue.

* A longer angle of slope on the packer wheel to reduce soil rolling back into the furrow and to provide deeper and more stable furrow ridges.

* A cutting tool in front of each opener to cut through heavy residue.

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