So far, the number of producers in North America regularly using Cross Slot openers makes for a very exclusive club. Joel Eaton, who farms near Meadow Lake, Sask., placed an order with the company late in 2009 for a set. That will make him only the second Canadian to own one of these systems.
He plans to retrofit a 30-foot Flexi-Coil 6000 airseeder. Installing Cross Slots onto the Flexi-Coil frame was the cheapest way to build a drill with the New Zealand-built openers. Eaton chose the 6000 for its heavy frame. That extra strength is necessary to support the beefy Cross Slot openers, which weigh in at 250 pounds each.
What prompted him to opt for Cross Slots? “A lot of it was quality,” he says. The ability of the New Zealand openers to deal with residue and increase seeding speed were also prime factors in his decision, along with the Cross Slot’s reputation for very low soil disturbance.
When asked if price, at $4,400 per opener, was a stumbling block, Eaton says, “It was and it wasn’t. It’s going to cost me a little bit over $200,000.” But when he looked at outfitting a new North American seeder equipped the way he wanted, he says it was going to cost about $180,000. That was a price difference he could live with. The Cross Slot openers also give him flexibility to use granular, liquid or NH3 fertilizer without making significant changes.
Cliff Merchant, a producer in Alberta’s Peace region, is the only Prairie producer with experience using Cross Slot openers. He, too, retrofitted a 30-foot Flexi-Coil 6000. “I’m really, really happy with them so far,” he says. “They’re doing what I hoped they would do. The one big factor that turned me onto them was, in our type of heavy clay soil when you disturb it, it would open up and wouldn’t close properly. Cross Slot has a different mode of operation.”
And Merchant has found they handle heavy residue well. “It has a 22-inch coulter disc,” he says. That disc is going deeper than the blades on the openers, so cuts into the hardpan. “And it cuts your straw a lot better. You don’t have any hair-pinning issues.”
He is impressed with the Cross Slots’ ability to penetrate tough soils, too. He has used them to seed directly into grass sod without any difficulty.
Installing the openers onto his seeder frame wasn’t difficult. Most growers could do it, Merchant says. Because each opener weighs 250 pounds, you have to be set up to lift them into place, he says. His are set on 10-inch row spacings. So far, his retrofitted Flexi-Coil has logged about 3,300 acres, and all without problems.
The company claims Cross Slots will work properly at field speeds of up to 10 m. p. h. Jack Wolf of Uniontown, Washington, says that’s no exaggeration. He regularly uses his at a speed of 7.5 m. p. h.
Wolf, who is also a U. S. distributor of the openers, says he has used them on his Washington farm since 1998. He claims the seed openers have consistently performed well when establishing crops at that speed. He has used them for cereals, oilseeds and even some large-seeded crops like corn.
But because of the very heavy weight of the openers, he adds, horsepower requirements go up substantially over North American designs, making a Cross Slot seeder a very heavy pull. But, he notes, part of that heavier pull comes from the higher ground speed, which would increase the force required to pull any opener.
When it comes to maintenance, Wolf says the disc and the opener blades are normal wear items that will eventually need replacement. But assessing their working life depends on what kind of soil they will be used in. He estimates his disc blades are averaging about 5,000 acres, while the knives last about 3,500.
That lifespan of “consumable” parts means many large-scale Prairie growers wouldn’t be able to make it through one seeding season without stopping to overhaul openers. Wolf has calculated the cost of replacing these wear parts runs about US$1.50 per acre on the clay-loam soils he farms.
The company’s fact sheet values the cost of replacing these parts at US$2 to $3 per acre based on testing in New Zealand. But, it adds, “In high clay content soils this cost may be halved and in abrasive soils it may be doubled.” Wolf’s experience is right in line with that estimate. With the variable nature of Prairie soils, wear rates and operating costs would likely vary considerably between farms.
According to Wolf, the company will include some replacement parts with the initial shipment of a retrofit kit. But many replacement parts are commonly available in Canada and the U. S. from a variety of suppliers. “The hydraulics are Parker. You can order Parker parts. As well, the bearings are off the shelf,” he says. “As for the consumables, you want to have a few of those on hand.” They will need to come directly from Baker No-Tillage.
On one occasion, Wolf had to air freight a replacement electronic part from New Zealand. It arrived in only two days and the shipping cost was US$50. However, the company has just moved to improve parts availability in North America.
Gavin Porter, who runs Baker No-Tillage USA, says this branch of the company has just set up a parts warehousing operation in Pullman, Washington, which should greatly improve access to parts and service.
“It’s only the parts that go in the ground that wear out. Everything else is pretty robust,” says Porter. “Your blade, discs and scrapers are the three main components. At the end of each season, those are the parts producers need to check.”
There seems to be no doubt the Cross Slot openers offer impressive capabilities. The question for producers considering the technology, though, is whether or not those features, and their associated costs, offer advantages in their own farming operations.