The growth in bigger equipment certainly hasn't left fertilizer applicators in the dust. And as with every other piece of farm machinery, when farmers can't buy the rigs they want, they build them.
Kansas farmer Elvin Domann wanted a fertilizer applicator that would hug the terraces and hillsides of his Winchester, KS, farm-land as it applied anhydrous and dry fertilizer at the same time.
“We bought a John Deere 680 chisel plow because we couldn't get an anhydrous bar that had wings that would flex below center,” he says. “We also wanted that unit because it has a floating hitch. It allows us to travel over terraces in whatever direction needed without the knives coming out of the soil.”
The chisel plow's shanks lay new and unused in Domann's shop. He built row units with DMI parts, using a 20" coulter in front, a spring-loaded shank mounted with a double-tube knife and 18" double-disk sealers. He mounted the 24-row units on 20" centers to match up with his planter.
“I think the 20" spacing is very important, even if you plant on 30" rows. The anhydrous is distributed a lot better,” Domann says. “And when you put down dry at the same time, the roots don't have far to grow to reach the nutrients.”
A 7-ton Flexicoil air cart with two compartments carries dry fertilizer ahead of Domann's anhydrous bar. Originally, he modified the cart to run on tracks. When he sold the tracks, he built new axle frames under the cart equipped with combine final drives to get double-duty from his combine tires.
“The wide tires give us much better flotation,” he says. “It makes it ride much better and doesn't bang and slam when you go over rough spots in the fields.”
While Domann manually adjusts application rates with the dry fertilizer, a Dickey-John monitor tied in with the tractor's radar controls anhydrous flow.
It takes a 425-hp tractor to pull Domann's rig with the knives running 7-8" deep. On a good day, however, he can still knock out 200 acres. “It's some of the best money we've ever spent,” he says.
And expenses are getting a hard look from Domann. “We're in the process of streamlining our operation as much as we can. We're trying to get the most we can out of each dollar we spend.”
That includes grid mapping fields in 1.6-acre units to maximize fertilizer dollars. “We used to custom blend each load of fertilizer for the soil between terraces,” he says. “We won't be using the Flexicoil cart as much because with the grid sampling we're applying all our dry fertilizer with a VRT applicator.”
Like Domann, Greg Kreikemeier couldn't buy the anhydrous bar that would do what he wanted to do. But, then, there aren't many farmers who want to knife-in anhydrous in the northeastern hills of Nebraska at better than 10 mph — with accuracy. And that's in no-till.
Kreikemeier bought an Exatrix anhydrous system to provide the volume and accuracy that he was looking for. The system keeps anhydrous in liquid form until it exits the knife tip. The result is knife-to-knife consistency. “We ran bucket tests. And, port to port, the anhydrous volume never varied more than 3%,” he says.
A 55' Friesen toolbar that started life as a 36' planter carries 22-row units set at 30" centers on Kreikemeier's anhydrous applicator. The West Point, NE, farmer worked with Guy Swanson, the developer of the Exatrix system, to build row units strong enough to work in the conditions that Kreikemeier wanted to run in.
As a result, these aren't your standard anhydrous shanks and knives. Built with 1¼" bar steel, each unit weighs in at 435 lbs. While that would penetrate most fields, Kreikemeier added a cab-controlled hydraulic cylinder to each row unit for up to 700 lbs of added down pressure.
Designed as a parallel linkage with 22" of travel, the row units also pivot on a 2½" chrome-plated pin to follow contours on hillsides. “We use a 22" coulter in front so we can minimize disturbance at higher speeds,” Kreikemeier says. Small, pneumatic tires trail the row units to seal the anhydrous.
Twin 1,450-gallon anhydrous tanks with 1¼" bottom outlets feed the hydraulically controlled sliding vane pump with just enough capacity to keep up with Kreikemeier. “We can cover 40-50 acres/hour,” he says. “It takes about 90 minutes to empty the two tanks.”
In good conditions, Kreikemeier can apply anhydrous at up to 12 mph. Because the anhydrous remains liquid until it reaches the soil, he only needs to set his knives 3-4" deep. Even at 55' of implement width, the shallow depth allows him to cover ground fast with a 425-hp tractor.
But it's the accuracy that really defines Kreikemeier's applicator. The Exactrix system uses a mass flow meter — 2KD Weigh Master — that dynamically weighs the liquid anhydrous. “It's very common equipment in the petroleum industry, but you don't see it much in agriculture,” says Swanson. “It's actually more accurate than the mechanical scales used by most coops and fertilizer companies.”
Kreikemeier, like Domann, is trying to maximize every dollar spent. He built his anhydrous rig heavy to last.
“It's designed to go 100,000 acres,” he says.