VERNON - When Vernon Valley Farm co-owner Greg Millard first saw a Phillips Rotary Harrow at a Precision Planting training day in Illinois, he thought it was one of the strangest machines he had ever seen.
"The technician and I said wow, this is weird, and three years later we have one here in Eastern Ontario," said Millard.
Millard, who cash crops 490 acres in corn, soy and wheat south of Vernon and is a Pioneer seed dealer, heard owner of Crop Tech Consulting Ken Ferrie speak in Louisville, Kentucky about working with soil to create uniform density at planter clinics in Kentucky and was impressed.
"Paul Sullivan, (an agronomist based in Kinburn, Ont.) and I looked at going to Illinois to talk to the guys who work with the system. Ferrie set it up so we could meet with three of his clients," said Millard.
"I phoned the guys in Saskatoon to get the machine here and didn't give up until they got it here," said Millard, who ordered the equipment on a trial basis.
It only took a couple of weeks for the 30 foot rotary harrow to arrive in a box on the back of a 20' truck and Millard put it together.
On May 6, Gord Elliott, sales director for Precision Metal Fabricating Ltd. which manufactures Phillips rotary harrows, flew in from Saskatoon and Jim Hosking, the manufacturer's sales representative for Ontario arrived on site to see that the machine was working correctly.
Elliott described the machine as a minimum till' harrow that is popular with a lot of the no till people who like to have the ground turned up, to have some heat in the soil."
"It works the top 1.5 inches of ground. It can work in heavy residue without getting plugged up. It gets the residue fluffed up, warms and dries the soil and gets it ready for planting. It flicks out small weeds and performs a nice job of levelling the seed bed," said Elliott.
"With minimum till, getting the ground warmed up and ready for planting, a farmer can get the seed into the soil earlier and that's an advantage. With no till, the seed goes into cold ground."
The light tillage has another advantage, in dealing with small weeds and killing disease spores in the top two inches of soil.
Clarifying some confusion between the concepts of no till' and minimum till', Elliott said the no till concept in the United States is different than the concept in Canada. "In the U.S. no till is considered anywhere from 1 to 2 inches. Here we think no till means not disturbing the ground."
Tilling the ground at between six and ten miles an hour, the machine covers a lot of ground and is ideal for large farms. While the Phillips rotary harrow also comes in a 43' size, two smaller harrows, 17' and 21' are in the planning stages for the smaller farms in eastern North America and British Columbia.
According to company literature, the heart of the Phillips Rotary Harrow is the patented interlocking tine assembly. The staggered design hits the ground in a pattern of grooves 3.25 inches apart, which disturbs a high percentage of the ground, leaving the soil surface smooth. The tooling doesn't plug up because it is self cleaning, and the tines have a long lifespan, since they are made of heat treated steel.
Phillips rotary harrows were designed in Western Australia by Laurie Phillips who holds the patent on the tooling part, but Precision Manufacturing in Saskatoon designed the harrow frame and has been manufacturing them since 1995.
Continued on page 17
Jim Hosking said there is a major manufacturing market for the machines in the corn and soybean belt in the United States, which has bought the majority of the 250 machines manufactured this spring. Fourteen were sold in Canada, including one in southwestern Ontario and the one Millard purchased, which is the only one in eastern Ontario. However, an Edmonton-based manufacturer Phoenix also manufactures similar machines.
"With the rotary harrow, "we work only the first inch of soil, the seed goes into the ground at 1.5 to 2 inches and you get rid of the horizontal density change which creates a horizontal plane," said Millard.
By contrast, the conventional tillage cultivator goes into the top 3 to 3.5 inches of soil like the first few inches of a garden. When the roots grow out of the seeds, they hit a soil density change.
Ken Ferrie was guest speaker at this year's Eastern Ontario Crop Conference in Kemptville, where he explained the benefits of having uniform soil density, as opposed to density changes.
With uniform soil density, the roots grow downwards at an angle which is optimum for plant growth.
The roots go deep into the soil to carry water up to the plant and last through the dry months of the summer, and the results show up in yield increases.
Millard has already put in beans and corn and will be working with corn residue from last year.
"So far I'm impressed with it," he said.
He has also rented out the equipment to farmers and has several who are eager to try it out. After he checks the final results on the weigh scale this fall, he will know whether the $26,000 equipment is a worthwhile investment.