The Cross Slot seed opener system developed by Baker No-Tillage of New Zealand has been exported to several countries around the world, but until now it hasn’t made significant inroads into the machinery market on the Canadian Prairies. WhenGrainewsfirst looked at the technology back in 2009, there was only one farmer in Western Canada using it.
Since then, however, the company has opened a North American subsidiary firm, Baker No-Tillage Ltd. U.S.A., and it is now marketing the Cross Slot No-Tillage System more aggressively to prairie farmers in the northern U.S. and Western Canada. But perhaps more importantly, the company has made some manufacturing changes to lower production costs and adapted the design to more closely meet the needs of those farmers.
“One of the problems we had was this was a very expensive piece of machinery to invest in,” says Gavin Porter, CEO of Baker No-Tillage U.S.A. “We’ve sought out (local) manufacturers to manufacture equipment for us. What that’s done is significantly reduce the cost of the investment (for buyers). And we’ve significantly reduced the cost of the openers. We’ve now got those down to just over $3,000. We’re a little bit more [expensive] than some of the other high-profile openers out there, but not much, and our equipment will be around a lot longer,” he says.
Porter says the long lifespan farmers can expect from Cross Slot drills makes the higher initial investment a good one. “You don’t need a huge increase in yield to justify an investment in technology like the Cross Slot system versus something from a capital perspective that is half the cost, because its designed to last 10 to 15 years.”
Aside from offering durability, Porter says the Cross Slot system takes no-till seeding beyond what most other production drills are capable of. “We call them an ultra-low disturbance opener,” he says. To show farmers exactly what that means, the company arranged a demonstration day in the field in North Dakota in early May.
Kevin Larson, whose farm was used for the demo, had just purchased a 45-foot drill with a 12-inch opener spacing. Farmers attending the demo had a chance to see it at work.
Aside from being an owner, Larson has also become one of the company’s product specialists and a sales rep. He says the Cross Slot’s ability to produce up to 1,000 pounds of down pressure on each opener gives the drill the ability to seed into anything from corn stubble to pasture sod, exactly what he needed.
“I’ve been no-tilling for 30 years,” he says. “Equipment failure is one of the things that drew me to Cross Slot. One of the key things (offered by the Cross Slot system) is hydraulic down pressure and enough weight to push them into stubble or pure sod.”
With the expanded variety of crops Larson now grows, he found his previous drill didn’t perform well in fields where residue was heavy. “Too much residue would keep me from getting seed into the ground,” he says. “In sunflower, stalks would tend to push ahead of my seeder’s openers and cause me to pull out and have to use a vertical disc or some type of tillage.”
Porter adds that the company originally designed the Cross Slot openers to function in the very wide range of field and heavy residue conditions common in New Zealand. Because most farms there have livestock, drills often need to seed into pastures to keep up with crop rotations. So the Cross Slot’s opener down pressure capability is high, which allows farmers to seed directly into sod and completely avoid tillage.
So far, the few Canadian farers who’ve chosen to purchase a Cross Slot system have opted to retrofit an existing tool bar with the openers. The company will still offer retrofit packages for anyone wanting to do that, but getting the maximum performance from them requires a pretty heavy toolbar, which may not be possible when retrofitting another, lighter drill made by a different manufacturer.
“If you have 45 openers with 1,000 pounds of down pressure each, you need 45,000 pounds above them to keep them from lifting out of the ground,” says Porter. To allow North American farmers to get the best performance from the openers and still have a drill large enough to meet the demands of broad-acre farms, the company designed a 45-foot toolbar and arranged for Gates, a North Dakota farm implement manufacturer, to build it. The toolbars the company previously offered were much narrower.
Porter adds that Baker No-Tillage also offers an even larger, 60-foot design, the first one built has recently been put to work on a farm in Australia.
Because the Cross Slot system is capable of higher working speeds than farmers are used to, the 45-foot version provides more capacity than most people expect.
“This drill works well at speeds from two miles per hour on up to 10,” says Larson. “I hope to operate at seven or seven and a half.” Rather than the openers’ ability to accurately place seed limiting the drill’s top speed, Larson thinks the capacity of the Case IH air cart attached to it will be the limiting factor. “The speed will be determined by at what point does the air system bog down.”
Porter expects its high-speed capability will allow the 45-foot Cross Slot toolbar to compete with other, much wider competitors. “With a narrower width but a faster speed, you’re going to cover the same amount of acres in a day.”
Larson says his current tractor is capable of providing 10 horsepower per opener, but that is far more than necessary. “I think seven and a half is adequate for the most difficult situations, like seeding into sod,” he says. “But most field situations will be five or less.”
To show off the Cross Slot system’s capabilities, the company demonstrated the drill’s ability to work in three very different field conditions. “You saw in the demonstrations we did today, we put the tractor through corn stalks, pasture sod and then into barley,” says Porter. “We didn’t change a thing on the system. That gives you an idea what this is capable of.” The company hopes that kind of versatility will catch the attention of North American farmers, particularly those that need to seed a wide variety of crops or deal with difficult field conditions.
To find out more about the company, check out their web-site, www.crossslot.com.