In the first part of our series, we covered tractors for forest landowners and discussed specific options and specifications before making a purchase ( https://blogs.clemson.edu/fnr/2021/10/21/tractors-for-forest-landowners/ ). In part 2, we will cover many of the common ground contact implements that forest landowners should have and some of the intended uses of such an implement.
Some of the most common things to look for in all implements for rough, unimproved ground applications, like found on forest land, is the size and thickness of the steel used. Also, pay attention to implements that have added gussets and other braces. An implements’ hitch is measured by Category, with Category 1 being the most common for 20-40hp tractors. Thus, make sure you buy implements that fit your tractor and will not need special bushings or other adapters for hooking up.
The disc harrow comes to mind first when talking about ground contact implements. Disc harrows are usually bought in widths just big enough to cover the tractor’s rear tire tracks. However, some tractors have high enough horsepower (HP or hp) to pull widths greater than the rear tires. Typically, a 30hp class will pull a 5’ wide, a 40hp class will pull a 6’ wide, and a 50hp and greater stands the ability to pull even larger. As mentioned in the first article (part 1), keep in mind your operating widths and the limitations of things like tree row spacing, etc. When making a purchasing decision, a few things to look at are: disc count per axle, ease/simplicity of adjusting the disc angle, style of bearings being used, is the implement Quick-hitch compatible if you are using one, steel thickness, and frame size and bracing. It’s not uncommon for a less expensive disc harrow to lack one or more of the above-mentioned features.
The number 1 job of the disc harrow for forest landowners will typically be planting food plots. They are also good for putting in fire breaks for controlled burns. The biggest thing to remember with a disc harrow is getting them to cut into the ground. Clay land can be a real challenge to penetrate, and sand soils can be a challenge not to cut too deep. Disc harrows are also great for smoothing ground that you may have had to use a different implement to turn the soil. Simply adjust the discs to a less aggressive angle and begin smoothing. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with a disc harrow is operating the tractor too fast. Too slow is also not good either. Seat-time is the best way to learn the proper speed to operate the combination. By paying attention to soil type, tractor ability, and implement capability, you’ll quickly get a feel for the speed that is perfect for getting the maximum turning of soil from your disc harrow. For me personally, with my tractor w/6’ harrow and on my land, about 3-4mph is perfect (depending on soil moisture conditions).
One of my go-to plows is referred to by many different names. You will see people and businesses refer to it as an All-Purpose plow, spring-shank field cultivator, ripper plow, chisel plow, and spring-tooth scarifier. I use it when I am operating in soils with compaction. Shank plows are typically bought by shank/tine count rather than width. It typically takes about 5hp/shank to properly pull one through the soil. Sandier soils can get away with pushing the hp/shank rule, whereas clay soils need not exceed the rule. When planting food plots on heavy clay soils, I often use a shank plow with multiple passes to bust up the soil well. I then will put my disc harrow on and smooth everything out to make a perfect seedbed before thinking about planting. On sandier soils or soils that have good tilth, one needs to pay attention to the depth of operation as it is not hard to sink one up to almost the frame of the implement and continue plowing with it. Shank plows can be used to plow fire breaks, but be especially careful when doing this. This is especially true if you are planning on making limited passes, as sometimes there may not be enough bare mineral soil exposed, and fire can hop-jump by spotting across the grass clumps.
Subsoilers are another great implement for the forest landowner. For most forest landowners, the single shank subsoiler is what most will have. Subsoiler performance is measured by ‘how deep can they penetrate,’ and depth penetration is greatly dependent on HP, traction, and soil type. Subsoilers are used for breaking up a hardpan condition. Most think of a hardpan condition as being a food plot issue; however, it can also be an issue when dealing with tree seedlings. Typically, when discussing hardpan issues for seedlings, we are planting seedlings in old agricultural fields. Remember, if you are using a subsoiler for tree planting, plant beside the rip and NOT in the rip.
A 3-point hitch rototiller can be a great tool for food plot planting and fire break maintenance. These work especially well on land plowed for years with other implements (disc harrow, etc.) and are free of rocks and roots. The primary misuse of rototillers I see is people operating too fast with them. Rototillers work exceptionally well with hydrostatic drive tractors as the operator can feather the forward pedal. On gear selection tractors, typically, some of the slowest gears work best. If you want a food plot to have a smooth appearance, a rototiller might be just what you need. Do keep in mind that the pulverizing of the soil into a light, fluffy medium to work with will also increase the loss of soil moisture. Keep this in mind when working sandier soils and/or droughty conditions.
One of the last implements I want to discuss before quickly running out of article space is a cultipacker. Serious food plot planters who really want their food plots to perform at peak ability will use a cultipacker. A cultipackers primary job is to ‘firm up’ the soil after you have finished working (plowing) it. It offers a firm seedbed for planting. When soil conditions are not too wet, a cultipacker will roll a small amount of soil just in front of the rollers, causing a perfect condition for planting small seed plants (such as clover, rape, etc.). This provides just enough soil coverage for these small seed plants. Cultipackers are usually bought as wide as the tractor’s rear tires or slightly wider. This is because the implement is not digging but rather applying slight down pressure across the top of the ground. Thus, HP needed is not as big of a concern; however, traction and tractor weight is.
In our next article, part 3, we will discuss implements and attachments for property maintenance.
Stephen Pohlman, Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Agent
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