Field rollers smooth harvest, reduce tire damage
It slices! It dices! It makes Julienne Fries! OK, so field rollers aren’t that versatile, but farmers are finding new uses for the agricultural version of a giant rolling pin.
After planting soybeans, Ed Shafer, of Grimes, Iowa, runs a 60'-wide field roller at 10 mph to crush clods and root balls from his previous corn crop.
"It’s amazing how much just breaking the clods and root balls in the spring reduces the amount of dirt my soybean platform takes into the combine," he says. "I didn’t realize how much wear it was causing to my platform’s cutterbar, until I started rolling fields."
Shafer used to replace a dozen or more sickle sections per week on his combine, trying to keep the sickle sharp. That maintenance dramatically dropped once he started rolling fields.
Marjorie Strandlund of Rite Way Manufacturing, says rocky fields were the genesis for modern field rollers.
"We originally marketed them to smooth fields and press rocks into the soil," Strandlund says, "but farmers keep coming up with new ways and reasons to use them."
Brad Folkers raises continuous corn near Polo, Ill., and rolls his cornfields each winter to eliminate stubble damage to tires. "We harvest with a 12-row, 15" corn head equipped with Stalk Stompers to reduce damage to the combine’s tires," Folkers says. "We wait until the stalks are good and dry, then roll the fields with a 30' roller. We drive the tractor on the rows that were flattened by the Stalk Stompers on the combine and cover two passes of the corn head with the roller."
He says the 42" diameter steel drums on the RiteWay roller he rents each year dramatically reduce tire damage.
"Once we roll it, we can go any direction to chisel plow or spread manure," he says. "It has all the benefits of a stalk chopper without the maintenance and upkeep, plus you can go faster and it doesn’t leave the little stubs that chew up tires.
Flattening stalks against the ground also helps moisture and bacteria start degrading the stalks, he adds.
Seedbed prep. The benefits of land rollers are most often seen in the reduction of combine wear and tear, but as farmers experiment, other advantages are found.
"We have customers rolling wheat ground for better seed-to-soil contact, rolling peat soils to improve seedbed consistency and rolling corn residue to break down corn root balls," says Brian Perkuhn, sales manager for Summers Manufacturing, Maddock, N.D.
Gary Maeze, owner of Custom Made Products in Humboldt, Iowa, sells and rents field rollers to farmers from Utah to Pennsylvania. He says a misconception about modern field rollers is that they "pack the dirt."
"Farmers are used to the old cast-iron, small-diameter rollers, which were designed to pack the soil," Maeze notes. "The new-style rollers with large diameter drums have such a big footprint that they don’t pack the ground as much as they smooth the surface.
"I have customers who roll their cornfields ahead of planting," Maeze says. "They say it makes their planter’s row units run without bouncing around on clods and root balls, so they get better seed placement and more even germination and emergence."
Field rollers by Degelman, RiteWay, Summers and other manufacturers come in a variety of sizes, from single-section units that smooth an 11' swath to multi-section, 85'-wide field flatteners.
Strandlund says to expect to pay $1,000 per foot for a quality field roller.
"For around $3.50 an acre I can rent one for what the interest would cost for me to own one," Shafer says. "When you consider how much it costs if you put just one baseball-size rock through a combine, I figure the annual roller rental pays for itself."
You can e-mail Dan Anderson at email@example.com.