A key part of Ruwoldt’s farming system is “controlled traffic” where all load-bearing wheels follow the same tracks with all machines using the same or matching widths with narrow tires.
Three metres (10 feet) between tracks is the logical choice, since that is the most common wheel spacing on tractors. But to get all implements to match exactly, Ruwoldt started with his combine wheel spacing, and then matched other implements to it. To get it to work, he had to go to 120-inch wheel spacing, which is 3.048 metres. Otherwise, the wheel tracks wouldn’t exactly match.
All his machines are the same width, or in multiples of the base width. For example, his seeder and combine header are 30-feet wide and his sprayer is 90 feet.
Because Ruwoldt also seeds between the rows, he must side-shift the hitch point 7.5 inches on his seeder from year to year. He used to do this manually with some machinery modification, but he now has a new toolbar with hydraulic adjustment on the openers so that he can do it from the cab.
He shifts the openers instead of the whole toolbar because he wants the wheels on the toolbar to stay put so they match the existing tram lines. With the new hydraulic shift on the openers, he can do this easily.
Ruwoldt went to controlled traffic when he saw the evidence of compaction on his heavy clay soils. When he looked at the number of passes he made on a field, he estimated that without controlled traffic, he would cover 40 per cent of the field with tire tracks, compared to 11 per cent with controlled traffic.
Moving to controlled traffic has improved the water infiltration rate on his fields, more than doubling the infiltration rate on tilled, wheeled land, and an improvement of over 50 per cent over zero-tilled, wheeled fields.
His system makes three 120-inch widths per planter width that never ever get driven on. The tramlines get very solid on the row, and he never worries about getting stuck. Ruwoldt has noticed his power requirements have been reduced 35 per cent because after a few years, the wheel tracks are like “running on a highway.”
Even the grain cart runs on same wheel tracks. To accomplish that, he put an extension on the combine’s unload auger to get it to unload in the middle of the grain cart.
Ruwoldt says that the longer his fields are in zero till, the more important it is to avoid compaction. As the soils get mellower and softer, compaction is a greater risk.
“I used to think it wasn’t a concern, but the longer we practiced no-till, the better and softer the soil became and the more we noticed compaction damage in our crops. We put in moisture probes this year to work out our infiltration rates. In July, after three or four inches of rainfall, we recorded an increase of moisture at one metre deep. That’s where we want it,” says Ruwoldt. “That is the big gain in my system, it is water infiltration which leads to water use efficiency. We don’t receive anymore rain than anyone else, but we manage it better and retain more moisture that the crop can access later on in the spring when the plants really need good moisture.”
Does it pay? In a lentil compaction trial, Ruwoldt saw a 55 per cent yield reduction in wheel tracks compared to no wheel tracks. The overall yield advantage to a controlled traffic field was 13.75 per cent, resulting in $55.55 per hectare higher revenue.
“On my farm, that’s $157,000, and people say they can’t afford to get into controlled traffic,” says Ruwoldt.
Ruwoldt says that while his experiences have proven no-till to have many benefits, he believes there are many more improvements to be made. He explains that going to wider rows allows him to seed between the standing residue rows every year, which gets rid of all the problems associated with disc seeders, such as hair pinning. Going to discs and wide rows has reduced the damage done to the soil.
“Remember the soil is our greatest asset. We can buy a new car or tractor or even a house, but when we wear out our soil we can not just buy some more so we need to look after what we have the best way we can,” says Ruwoldt. “It is a system approach and we have to get the system all together to maximize the benefits.”