Versatility, Efficiency, Maneuverability: SoilWarrior
For one Colorado Dairy Farmer, the importance of time and efficiency were the ultimate deciding factors when adding a SoilWarrior to his operation.
About 80 miles northeast of Denver in Fort Morgan, Colorado, Stratton Kraft made spring strip-till passes with his SoilWarrior. "We're [strip-tilling] in a circle. That's a little different than most strip-till guys. We cut our corn in a circle, plant in a circle, do everything in a circle," said Kraft. "We shave quite a bit of time off fieldwork and our harvest and planting times by going in a circle. We can shave off about half the number of passes going in a circle."
Kraft's farming operation is run alongside his mom and dad. They own Kraft Family Dairies, LLC, where they milk 6,000 to 6,500 head, three times a day. They raise their replacement heifers and do the calf rearing independently. "We farm about 1,200 acres. About 1,000 of that right now is in corn, and the rest of it is in alfalfa. That is one kind of our cropping rotations over the years. About every 5 to 6 years, we roll a field out of alfalfa and put it into corn, and take another farm and put it into alfalfa," stated Kraft.
The primary source of fertilizer used in their operation is liquid dairy manure. A dragline injection system applies it in the fall. Once the waste is applied, the fields are ripped and disked, and a cover crop blend of hairy vetch, purple top turnips, and rye is planted to sustain microbiology within the soil and help prevent wind erosion.
Kraft used to plant into cover crops but had issues with seed-to-soil contact and emergence. When they had planted into their cover crop, they planted straight into the cover crop rows and noticed yield production took a hit. It led Kraft to explore options for a different practice of tillage and cover crop application.
"Our intention is that we strip in the spring and that we have got a full growing cover crop all winter. In the springtime, we can still maintain some of the cover crop strips in between our strip-till runs so that way we have some wind coverage, and we are also keeping a lot of our microbiology and our fungus and bacteria growing constantly that we are not wiping them out in the springtime and starting from zero again," Kraft said. He does spring strip-till into cover crops to apply elemental sulfur and a dry humic to maximize the efficiency of his fall-applied dairy manure.
Kraft created the correct sulfur prescriptions within his system and a 10-pound flat rate of rhizomatic and humic through his micro bin. "We are controlling all our scales so that way we can see and can cross-compare of our product theoretically coming out and coming out," Kraft said. "One of the beautiful things about the SoilWarrior is that it's exceptionally accurate as long as you did your pre-work correctly, calibrating it." Through the technology on their machine, Kraft enjoys the ability to run with the VISUM blockage monitor. "We can either run with fertilizer, or if we are planting seed, we will run that too. It'll tell you if [you have] a row that's plugged up or not quite running the way it should."
When considering the SoilWarrior over competitors, Kraft prioritized having one machine with all the features – the desired fertilizer capacity and a complete set-up. Kraft chose a 3-bin dry fertilizer system for his SoilWarrior. "We've got the two big bins, and the micro bin: [it] is what we are running our humic out of," Kraft said. ETS provided all components of his SoilWarrior strip-till system. "You're not having to buy the strip bar, cart behind you, to move your dry fertilizer with you. [ETS] has done a fantastic job of putting together a machine that is a one-piece set up."
Kraft purchased a SoilWarrior 4540SXD3, which is his second season running the machine. Since beginning his journey into strip-tillage with the SoilWarrior, he has noticed improved fertilizer efficiency, better seedbed, better planter ride, better emergence, enhanced microbiologic activity, and higher yields.
Kraft is more than impressed with the abilities of the machine. Over the last few seasons, he has discovered even more benefits. "We really like the SoilWarrior for its ease of maneuverability. Being able to have the guidance on the cart to where we can make it so that the 3-point planter that we are running follows in the same row. We are running 16 rows on our planter and SoilWarrior," Kraft said. He also likes the fertilizer application versatility and accuracy that comes with his strip-till system.
Incorporating the SoilWarrior into their operation has led to decreased labor needs, allowing more time to focus on the dairy side of the farm. The size and capacity of the machine have helped with those reduced hours. Dairy is their priority. The versatility and efficiency of the cropping system support that priority. "This is a simply complicated machine," stated Kraft. "Complicated in the amount of thought process that went into it to make 100% right. Complicated in the fact that you can do so many things with it, and if you want to add on or take away, you can do that on the fly for the most part. It is a very well-thought-out machine. Simple in the fact you load your prescriptions and calibrate your machine, set it, and go. Not much to worry about as long as you're paying attention to the way you are operating it."
Kraft is proud of the work the SoilWarrior has done for them. It took an initial investment for their operation but has already given them a return on investment. He saw enhanced microbiologic activity because the microbes didn't have to reset and rebuild in season. In turn, this resulted in a shorter activity lag, contributing to higher yields. He uses a micro-bio meter and sends samples to ROI Biologicals to understand bacteria, fungi, and mycorrhizae in the soil.
"I think SoilWarrior has done a fantastic job of figuring out the ins and outs; what does a better job. Yeah, it is heavy, it's [an] expensive machine, but in the long run, it holds up better than some of the other models we've seen. It gives you a lot more peace of mind. You can set it and know it's running right and just go and knock stuff out. You have the versatility to be able to run at a high speed and be able to see the difference that the speeds make in your strips, and being able to cover a lot of ground fast is a big deal," said Kraft. "For us, it is efficiency. If we can knock out 40 acres an hour across 1,000 acres, that puts time back into our pockets and our schedules. It doesn't have the capabilities the SoilWarrior has, which doesn't help you pay for what you're doing. Time is money."
To learn more about Kraft's operation and to watch his machine run, follow along on our YouTube page.
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