Warsaw, IN, farmer Bill Creighton is always looking for ways to save time and money on his 7,000-acre corn and soybean farm. So when one of his employees suggested he buy a one-pass soil finisher, Creighton took his advice.

He had been using a slicer-chisel plow for primary tillage, followed by at least one pass with a field cultivator in spring before planting. The new tool, a Krause Landstar, disks, cultivates and levels the soil all at the same time, saving him at least one trip.

“To go from two passes to one is definitely timesaving,” Creighton says. “And it really leaves a nice seedbed to plant into. But we also are leaving residue on the surface in corn stalks, so we come close to qualifying as high-residue.”

Growing trend

Creighton is among a growing number of farmers who are looking at one-pass soil finishers for a variety of reasons. One is that farms are getting larger while margins are getting tighter. Farmers are looking for a way to cover more ground in less time while saving on fuel, labor, machinery and other input costs.

Second, today's farmers must deal with more crop residue left by the new high-yielding corn hybrids and genetically modified Bt corn, which can have ropier stalks that may not break down as easily over winter as the stalks of conventional hybrids do.

Finally, no-till farmers fighting cold, wet springs, poor germination and resulting low yields want an alternative that will give them the warming and drying benefits of tillage yet the soil conservation benefits of at least some residue left on top.

Does it pay?

According to Mark Hanna of Iowa State University, Midwest row-crop farmers can save an average of $7 to $8/acre in fuel, depreciation and labor costs by eliminating a pass with a disk or field cultivator, depending on the age of the tractor or implement.

What's more, these tools are designed to get into areas that a conventional field cultivator can't. Front disc gangs slice and size tough residue and clods before consecutive ranks of field cultivator shanks even touch them. And yet enough of that residue is left behind to compete with no-till while maximizing yields.

According to independent field tests in 2001 that compared the use of the Krause Landstar combination tool to no-till in standing corn residue (measured at 93% residue remaining before tillage), one pass with the Landstar left 68% residue in spring after fall ripping compared with a spring preplant measurement of 84% for no-till. The corresponding yields were 50.5 bu. with the Landstar compared with 41 bu. with no-till.

“We are showing that there are ways to farm with minimum till that leave a comparable amount of residue to no-till, but yields are going to be more consistent and generally higher because of the proper seedbed,” says Dave Benson, marketing manager for Krause.

Purdue University studied the feasibility of one-pass tillage systems for corn and soybeans using a Case IH 4400 Combo-Mulch Finisher. Based on three years of test data in northern Indiana, the 4400 resulted in a 5- to 6-bu./acre yield advantage over the no-till soybeans, according to Keith Whitaker, global product manager, soil management equipment, for Case IH.

Basic configuration

One-pass soil finishers fall in the category of combination secondary tillage tools. However, they are not to be confused with strip-till, vertical-till or a range of other no-till offshoots that work only a portion of the ground. Rather, they are distinguished by a row of disc gangs up front, up to six rows of field cultivator shanks in the middle, followed by some sort of finishing attachment.

That basic configuration has remained the same since these tools were introduced in the early 1980s. But consecutive generations have been bigger, stronger and easier to adjust and have offered producers more options to fit their unique field conditions. And each brand takes a slightly different approach to creating a fine, level seedbed.

Krause TL 6400 Landstar and TL 6200 Landsman

Krause Corporation has introduced two new series of one-pass tools.

Benson states that the new TL 6400 Landstar is designed to provide maximum tillage in high-residue environments while maintaining a high degree of surface residue for soil conservation and residue management. “It will handle standing corn stalks in most situations in the 180- to 190-bu.-yield range,” he says.

The key to Landstar's performance is a row of incorporator wheels located behind the last rank of shanks. According to Benson, the wheels do four things: evenly distribute crop residue on the soil surface, remove soil from corn root crowns resulting in a more level seedbed, pre-level shank ridges ahead of the leveling attachments, and break clods for improved planter performance. The ductile-iron star wheels are mounted in pairs at a 25° angle to the frame and have spring mount for down pressure.

Keith Hanenburg of Coopersville, MI, used the Landstar last year on 800 acres of corn stubble that he didn't get fall tilled. “It got late, and we didn't get it done,” Hanenburg explains. “We wanted to go back to planting corn there. I went right in the field with the Landstar, and all that residue went right through it. It was awesome.”

Sizes range from 10-ft. rigid models to 36-ft., five-section folding models with 9-in. shank spacing. Suggested list price: $14,700 to $51,900 for basic models and up to $ 65,700 for the largest model with hydraulic gangs, XT 270 shanks and a three row tine-reel leveling system.

Krause claims its new TL 6200 Landsman provides superior one-pass seedbed conditioning in a wide range of crop residue conditions. “It has over 150 in. of front-to-rear clearance just from the first rank to the back rank of field cultivator shanks compared with 132 in. for most high-residue field cultivators,” Benson says. “That's new to the industry.”

Because of its six-rank frame, the Landsman can offer narrow 7-in. shank spacing as well as standard 9-in. spacing, both of which are high-residue capable.

The Landsman is available in 10 sizes ranging from a 10-ft. rigid model to five-section folding models in 36, 42 and 45 ft. Suggested list price: $12,300 to $44,600 for basic models and up to $68,300 for the largest model with hydraulic disc gangs, XT 270 shanks and a three row tine-reel leveling system.

Other new features on both models include a 190-lb. point load spring shank or optional XT 270 spring shank with a 270-lb. point load for tough minimum till or fields where no fall tillage was performed; a tongue that is longer and stronger than that of previous models for higher-horsepower tractors; and an optional Cushion Hitch that minimizes stress on the tractor drawbar and implement frame.

Contact Krause Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 2707, Hutchinson, KS 67504-2707, 800/957-2873, or visit www.krauseco.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Sunflower Land Finisher

Sunflower has updated its Land Finisher several times since the company first introduced it in the mid-1980s. The biggest change is the addition of patented disc gang reels, positioned directly behind the front row of discs. “One-pass tillage tools historically have all had the same problem, which is the inability to return the dirt back that is thrown sideways by the front discs,” says Kail Schoen, Sunflower advertising supervisor. “This is why Sunflower introduced the disc gang reel.”

According to Schoen, the Land Finisher has fast-turning spiral reels that throw back soil cast aside by the disc gangs. The company claims the reels will not plug like those on a finishing attachment that rolls on the ground in high-moisture conditions. The disc gang reels catch the soil coming off the disc gangs while it is suspended in the air, which helps keep the reel cleaned out.

The field cultivator shanks feature a 190-lb. point load — one of the highest in the industry — to reduce tripping in high-residue conditions and result in a more even moisture profile under the soil surface for quicker plant emergence.

Two- and three-section models range in size from 15 to 36 ft. wide. Suggested list price: $18,000 to $40,000. Contact Sunflower Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, 1 Sunflower Dr., Beloit, KS 67420, 800/748-8481, or visit www.sunflowermfg.com or freeproductinfo.net/fin.

John Deere 726 Mulch Finisher

In May 2001, John Deere upgraded its 726 Mulch Finisher, which it first released five years ago. The company designed a new TruPositionTM Standard for the trip assembly, shank and sweep of the machine. The trip assembly now has a loaded joint or pivot and a higher trip force — up to 150 lbs. — to keep the cultivator sweep level with the soil surface, even in hard soils, while breaking up clumps and knocking down ridges and valleys.

“The TruPositionTM standard provides a level seedbed floor and complete width tillage for excellent seed-to-soil contact,” says Matt Weinheimer, John Deere marketing manager for tillage. “We have a TruPosition joint, which is essentially a loaded pivot shank, which the competition doesn't have. That is, spring force tension is pushing the shank down into the soil so it doesn't pop up in hard ground, unless it hits hard rock.” The end result, Weinheimer says, is a more uniform seedbed and reduced wear on the sweeps.

The 726 consists of hydraulically adjustable disc gangs up front, followed by field cultivator standards with options of 7- or 9-in. spacing and three finishing options in back: a five-bar spiked-tooth harrow, a heavy-duty, three-bar coil-tine harrow or a three-bar spiked-tooth harrow with rolling basket.

Models with flexible frames range in size from 12 to 38 ft. wide. Suggested list price: $13,655 for a 12-ft. 9-in. model to $40,712 for a 38-ft. 3-in. model.

As an option, farmers can purchase a rear hitch to drag behind a John Deere 200 Seedbed Finisher to break clods further and get the finer soil particles into the seed zone for maximum seed-to-soil contact. Suggested list price for the finisher: $6,472 for the 20-ft., single-fold model to $11,511 for the 45-ft., double-fold model.

Contact John Deere North America, Agricultural Marketing Center, Dept. FIN, 11145 Thompson Ave., Lenexa, KS 66219-2302, 913/310-8324, or visit www.deere.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Great Plains Discovator

Great Plains has been selling the Discovator for six years. But this fall for the first time, the company is offering its patented Turbo Coulters, used for years on Great Plains no-till drills, as an option. According to Tom Evans, vice president of sales at Great Plains, the coulters reduce the compaction and ridging that conventional disc gangs can leave because of back pressure on the blade.

“One of the typical complaints on one-pass tools is that the front disc blades are moving dirt sideways,” Evans explains. “So typically in flat, heavy ground, which is common in Illinois and some of Iowa, they are moving dirt out but don't move it back in. So the soil is not left level. And when it rains, you'll get wet spots that don't dry out right.”

The Turbo Coulter, which is a waved, ⅝-in.-wide blade, slices straight down instead of at an angle to size residue, pick up and fluff dirt, and set it back down in the same place. Evans calls the concept “vertical” tillage as opposed to horizontal tillage created by conventional disc blades.

Sizes range from 16 to 52 ft. in rigid and folding frames. Suggested base list price: $700 to $900/ft. Contact Great Plains Mfg. Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 5060, Salina, KS 67402-5060, 785/823-3276, or visit www.greatplainsmfg.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Case IH 4400 and 4450 Combo-Mulch Finishers

Case IH replaced its 4200 Combo-Mulch Finisher with two new models — the 4400 and 4450 — in May of 2000 for the 2001 season. “Farmers were telling us they needed a machine that could handle more residue and have different disc gang options and more versatility than current offerings,” says Case's Keith Whitaker.

The 4400 is designed for use in the spring following primary tillage in the fall in moderate residue conditions. It features spring-cushioned disc gangs with 20-in.-dia. disc blades on 7.5-in. spacing to size residue before it reaches the cultivator shanks to create a firm, level seedbed with up to 70% residue retention.

The 4450 is a high-residue machine that can be run in the spring as secondary tillage without the need for fall primary tillage. It has 22-in.-dia. disc blades set on 9-in. spacing for a uniform aggressive cut. It is an option for no-till farmers who are fighting cold, wet springs and looking for an alternative residue-compliant tillage operation that would improve yields, Whitaker says.

Both models feature a five-rank mainframe to improve residue flow, adjustable gang angles from 5° to 10°, mechanical and hydraulic depth control, three shank options and five different harrow attachments.

Sizes range from 18 to 35 ft. wide in flat-fold and vertical-fold frame models. Suggested list price: $19,948 to $40,198 for the standard machine. Contact Case IH, Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 262/636-6011, or visit www.caseih.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.

Is one-pass for you?

You may want to consider a one-pass soil finisher if you…

  • Don't have knife rollers on your combine.
  • Use a fall tillage tool that leaves a high amount of residue on the surface.
  • Plant about 80% of your corn acres to Bt corn.
  • Plant corn on corn.
  • Deal with above-average yields.
  • Have seen less “overwintering” or variation in freezing and thawing in three of the last five years for stalk deterioration.