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The Iron Factor
Program Designed To Reduce Drift
Focus On Waterbirds & Raptors
The Label Is The Law
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From the Editor
Rice Producers Forum
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The Iron Factor

Equipment choices enhance efficiency and production

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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From planting through harvest, producing a rice crop involves a multitude of inputs. Although there’s always plenty of discussion about seed varieties and hybrids, pest control products and fertilizer, the “iron factor” – all of the equipment parked under your shed – also is critical to the success of your crop and the health of your operation’s bottom line.

Victor Hinze, who farms near Heth, Ark., says his motto at harvest time is “to cut every day, all day.” And to help him do that efficiently, he runs a Case IH 8120 combine with a 35-foot MacDon draper header and a Soucy Track system in wet field conditions.

Hinze, who, at the age of three, began going to the rice fields with his daddy, started farming on his own when he was 19. He has seen equipment get larger and heavier through the years, which played a role in his decision to invest in a Soucy Track system in 2009.

“It was just wet in ’09,” he says. “We had a 35- foot MacDon draper header on a combine that was digging into the ground all day. After we got the track system set up, we were able to pick up 184 bushels of rice per acre out of the dirt and save wear and tear on our harvest equipment.”

Victor’s son, Shane, who also is a rice producer, remembers 2009’s wet harvest conditions.

“At the time, I was running a Case IH 8010 with a 35-foot MacDon draper header and 20.8 dual tires,” Shane says. “The machine just sunk. That’s the first time I’ve ever had a combine stuck in my life. Once we got the tracks, it took us about 2 and one-half hours to take the duals off and put the tracks on.”

Victor says it’s true that 2009 was a bad year that hit everybody, and, although the track system helped him and Shane get their crops out without tearing up the ground, some people questioned the decision to buy tracks, chalking it up to what could turn into a one-year situation.

Victor says for him the tracks are worth it.

“There’s not a monetary figure you can put on the tracks when you consider that they saved our equipment and kept us from having to spend a lot of money to repair the ruts that tires would have made,” he explains.

Auto steer, tracks and muddy conditions

Brothers Terry and Jeffrey Boothe, who farm with their dad, Glenn, near Walnut Ridge, Ark., bought two sets of Soucy tracks during the rainy fall of 2009 because the floater tires don’t work well for them on their soils.

“The track system solves a problem (wet field conditions) that can’t be controlled,” Terry says. “Our combines are older models, and if we ever decide to trade them, we are keeping the tracks. When it’s wet, we can get in the field faster, have less field work to do after harvest, burn the least amount of fuel and spend the least amount of money.

“We have Soucy Track systems on both of our combines, and we also have John Deere Auto Steer on both machines,” he adds. “We’ve found that the Auto Steer works well with the track system in mud and doesn’t work as well in mud with tires.”

Terry adds that it’s nice to be able to watch the header and not have to steer. He says after harvest is over, they just take off the tracks, wash and grease them and store them in the shed.

Another Arkansas rice producer, who farms mostly no-till on heavy, gumbo ground, has been running tracks on his combines for the past three years and tracks on his grain carts for 15 years. He says, “A track machine will go where a wheel machine won’t think about going.”

He also notes that after a 2 and ½-inch rain and a day of sunshine, he can get back in the field with tracks and not create any ruts.

Making tracks in crawfish country

Although farmers in many other areas turn to the track system during a wet fall, Dwain Buller, who farms rice, soybeans and crawfish in southeast St. Landry Parish, La., close to the Atchafalaya Basin, says tracks on combines is all he has ever known.

 
Innovative Specialty Equipment Is Money Well Spent
 

In addition to the obvious equipment, such as grain drills, ground rigs, tractors and combines, needed to farm rice efficiently and profitably, other specialty items also can contribute to making the operation run smoothly.

For example, Shane Hinze uses a Demco grain cart that sports a longer spout on the auger that can be spun around.

“If you want to unload your grain cart and the auger is not positioned over the center of the truck, you can just adjust the pitch of the spout and unload the cart without having to move the tractor,” Shane says. “Also, we like to use a big tractor because it pulls the grain cart better and sits up high so you can see inside the truck,” he explains. “If you have to load on the tarp side of the truck and the tarp is in the way, you have a better view, which helps avoid tearing up the equipment or the trailer.”

An implement that is commonly used in south Louisiana farmer Dwain Buller’s area is a groover, comprised of angle irons placed on a pipe about 7 and one-half inches apart. At planting, the groover makes tiny rows in the water so that the seed falls in the grooves and doesn’t drift. Buller started out with a 20-foot groover, and, today, he has a more efficient and productive 36-foot groover.

“I didn’t even know that companies made combines with tires when I was a kid,” he says.

Buller recalls that years ago, farmers in his area would run steel tracks and bolt three-foot 3 x 3 oak boards on every other pad to keep from getting bogged down. They ran their first rubber tracks in 1995 and 1996, then bought into the Soucy Track system.

Purposely keep fields moist at harvest

“We use tracks every year,” Buller says. “We just leave them on the combine. We like to keep the field moist during harvest to make sure that the crawfish that have burrowed down in the mud have enough water. If the ground gets too dry, then the crawfish will die.

“We use tracks to keep from rutting up the fields in those wet conditions,” he adds. “If a field is dry enough for us to run tires, then it is drier than I want it to be for my crawfish.”

More productivity, heavier equipment

Marc McDonald, regional manager for Soucy International Inc., estimates that the cost of repairing the land that was rutted up during a wet harvest is a tremendous added expense.

“If it takes two or three passes to clean up the field in the spring, that process can get very expensive,” he says. “Whereas a rice field, or any field, that has been cut on tracks will have very little ground disturbance. That in itself is money.”

McDonald also notes that the fields haven’t changed and the ground has not changed, but equipment has changed to increase productivity, and more productivity means more weight.

“As farm machinery gets bigger and heavier, it has to have a better platform to carry it across the field,” he says. “Using a track system is a way to provide that platform without destroying the ground surface.”

Today, each product a rice farmer selects to grow a healthy, profitable crop is critical to the success of the operation. However, “the iron factor” that comes into play to get the crop in, apply inputs efficiently and get the crop out at harvest must be given careful consideration, too.

Every rice farming operation has its own unique equipment mix needed to produce the best crop possible, so don’t forget to size up your iron when planning for 2012.

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

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