No-till drill thrives in tough conditions with unique opener style
The English language is full of phrases that demand evidence: "You’ve got to see it to believe it" and "the proof is in the pudding."
So it doesn’t surprise custom seeder Ty Meyer when farmers ask him to demonstrate the Cross Slot no-till system. "I’ve seeded through 3'-tall sage brush this fall, and it wasn’t an issue," says Meyer, production ag manager for the Spokane Conservation District in Washington. "Residue doesn’t concern me. I’d rather have residue standing than have it mowed or shredded."
Cross Slot’s reputation is built on performance in rugged terrain.
"We use this for a one-pass seeding system that puts all the seed and fertilizer in side-by-side, and we can go into virtually any kind of residue or firm ground," explains farmer Kevin Larson of Willow City, N.D., who runs a 45' Cross Slot toolbar with a Case IH seed cart. "We can drill right into sod or cut through cornstalks and place 99% of the seed at the depth we expect to."
Development of this no-till tool began 40 years ago with agriculture professor John Baker in New Zealand. Initially intended to plant sheep pastures, today as many as 50 machines in the U.S. and Canada drill wheat and a variety of rotation crops. Cross Slot plans to expand into the Corn Belt.
The Cross Slot system, which includes complete drills as well as custom toolbars and components such as the unique opener, is used in 18 countries, says Gavin Porter, Cross Slot CEO.
"It works in just about every soil condition that you can think of—from sand, loams to clays," he says.
The Cross Slot opener features serrated 22" coulters that cut into the ground for seeding while leaving between 70% and 90% of surface residue intact. Side blades place seed and starter fertilizer on the same horizontal shelf.
First introduced to the Cross Slot in the 1980s, Keith Saxton, a USDA research agricultural engineer, saw the machine had potential to help wheat growers in the hilly Palouse, which is prone to some of the worst soil erosion.
"It is clear that this concept is going to have a real spot in the machinery market," says Saxton, who was instrumental in bringing the machine to the U.S.
How it works. The Cross Slot opener’s precise seeding and banded fertilizer capability helps no-till producers maximize crop seeding and emergence on flat fields and rugged terrain. In addition to wheat, the equipment is being used to plant crops such as corn, soybeans, canola and alfalfa.
The 11" wide openers are the foundation of the Cross Slot system. Unlike double-disk and hoe-style openers that create a V- or U-shaped seed trench, the Cross Slot opener has side blades that create a single horizontal shelf, placing seed on the left with starter fertilizer and the rest of the fertilizer on the right. Seed and fertilizer are between 1" and 1¼" apart to prevent fertilizer burn.
Preparing a path for the openers are straight-ahead serrated 22" coulters, which cut into residue with barely visible surface disturbance. The 3" packer wheels close the furrow and maintain seeding depth.
Undisturbed residue reduces weed issues and provides food for belowground microbes, creating better moisture retention, organic carbon absorption and soil structure, Porter explains. Over time, these factors lead to increased yields.
Seed boxes and fertilizer tanks can be built onto the frame. Fertilizers can be liquid, granular or anhydrous.
Cross Slot custom drills and toolbars carry the openers through the field. Compared with traditional planter row options of 12', 16' and 24', frames for custom drills range from 8' to 37'
in width, and toolbars can be up to 60' in width.
Compared with traditional planter row-spacing configurations of 20", 22" and 30", Cross Slot row-spacing options begin at 6" and can go as wide as customers request, says Porter, noting that 10" or 12" is commonly recommended for cereals and row crops. A 45' toolbar weighs up to 46,000 lb.
Any gravity or air-delivery type of seed-metering system works well. For some drills, Cross Slot uses Kverneland’s vacuum-based Accord system or Valmar’s roller-based technology. For its toolbars, the metering system corresponds to the brand of seed cart being operated, provided the cart has enough fan speed to deliver product across a wide toolbar.
In the Spokane area, Meyer seeds winter wheat at a depth of 1½". He says germination is the highest that he’s seen anywhere—impressive considering Spokane County and neighboring Whitman County are among the country’s highest-producing winter wheat locations.
"We’re not going too deep or too shallow," Meyer says.
In North Dakota, Larson is growing wheat, barley, sunflowers, corn and yellow peas on more than 4,000 acres with his two sons, Michael and Adam. He plants wheat, barley and yellow peas with the Cross Slot. This year, he also planted some oil-type sunflower seeds with the machine because it worked well in challenging field conditions. A no-till farmer for more than 30 years, he puts his overall emergence rate at above 90% on 12" rows with the Cross Slot and estimates a farm-wide yield increase of about 15%.
The farm has cut back its overall seeding rate by 10% because of the drill’s efficient singulation.
"Why put iron in the ground if it doesn’t pay you a dividend?" he says.
The drills are equipped with an automated down-force system. The sensors near the packer wheels set the openers’ seeding depth. At 7 mph, the system measures every 2" of forward movement and adjusts downpressure roughly every 5". Each opener can deliver up to 1,000 lb. of down-force pressure.
Fitting the equipment to the right tractor is an important consideration, Porter notes. In hilly states such as Washington, the Cross Slot is commonly pulled with an articulated tracked tractor or a comparable machine with 550 engine horsepower.
Drilling between 6½ mph and 7½ mph maximizes the performance of the Cross Slot. Each opener requires about 10 hp and between 3½ and 4½ gal. per minute (gpm) of hydraulic flow, with up to 20 gpm required when lifted for headland turns. A memory valve system holds the most recent opener pressure so seeding begins immediately after the openers have returned to the ground.
For the past three seasons, Meyer has used a 25'-wide drill built by Ag Pro Manufacturing of Idaho featuring hydraulics, electronics and 31 openers made by Cross Slot. Two wings, one on either side of the center section, fold up for a transport width of 16½' and a height of 13'.
Meyer’s machine includes seven auto-boom sections and controls for seed and fertilizer, plus Raven’s Invizio Pro auto-steer. The machine packs 400 gal. of starter along with 1,000 gal. of fertilizer and seeds on 10" rows.
The Spokane Conservation District initially invested $250,000 in its Cross Slot. The cost is sizable, but the drill also saves fuel and labor costs by eliminating the need to prepare the soil before seeding with chisel plows, cultivators and harrows, Meyer says. Minimal maintenance has been required to repair or replace worn parts at a cost of $1.35 per acre per year after 25,000 acres.
Around March 1, Meyer anticipates his delivery of a new Cross Slot. The 30' drill will include 600 gal. of additional fertilizer capacity and feature a 90-bu. seed tank.
The learning curve. As with any new piece of equipment, there is a learning curve when using the Cross Slot, Meyer says. At one point, fertilizer tubes leaked into the Cross Slot’s side blades and created residue plugging. Adding tighter tubing fixed that problem, Meyer says. When residue plugged between scrapers and the side blades, he simply removed the scrapers.
Producers challenged by riverbanks and heavy sticky clays will soon be able to purchase a sticky soil blade.
Cross Slot has a network of product specialists—generally farmers who own a Cross Slot machine—who are involved in marketing, sales and training. Cross Slot provides two years of support, supplies and spare parts to customers. The company has a central warehouse for parts via Agpro in Lewiston, Idaho, and parts stores in North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.
You can e-mail Nate Birt at firstname.lastname@example.org.