BENEFITS AND LESSONS LEARNED FROM USING COMBCUT
By Colin Tanner
Note: This is a long one but very well written article by our dealer Colin in Saskatchewan. Colin is also an organic farmer
Pic. Colin at a trade show in Canada showing CombCut
Focus on improving our organic production methods-by maintaining nutrients, selecting variety genetics, and developing our rotations-has led to improved fertility and moisture conservation on our farm. As a result, we find we also really need tö be on top of weed control-otherwise, the weeds take advantage of these improvements as well!Back in 2012, while engaging in research and talking with farmers from around tht”world, we learned about CombCut, the Swedish machine designed to control weeds in cereal crops. It seemed to be the answer to concerns about weeds that had kept us awake many nights, over many years. The
CombCut’s simple but amazing function is as follows: it works by selectively cutti ng plants based on their morphology. As the CombCut machine travels into the crop canopy, flexible, grassy plant leaves pass through the cutting section of the machine unscathed. Meanwhile, broadleaf annual weeds, which have a rigid-typ e stem, are simply cut off about 3-5 inches above the soil surface. A main reas on I have chosen to add CombCut to our weed management program is to limit the amount of tillage needed to control perennial weeds such as Canada thistle, Although tilling the soil two or three times a year is very effective, this leaves the soil more prone to erosion. Also, in dry land farming, where moisture is the main limiting factor, every tillage operation reduces soil moisture. With a tool like CombCut available, our farm can move towards becoming a no-till [zero-till) organic operation. So far, we have found CombCut to be very effective.
Last year on our farm, Canada thistle growth stopped for almost three weeks after cutting with CombCut, and its regrowth was less than we anticipated. We also saw very little to no regrowth after cutting smaller broadleaf weeds such as wild mustard and lamb’s quarters. Setting the weeds back permits a cereal crop to flourish and produce a lush canopy that suppresses weeds by reducing the amount of sunlight and nutrients they can access. Timing the use of CombCut is similar to the timing of herbicide use in conventional farming to suppress thistle growth.
We also used CombCut as an all-purpose cutter: although CombCut was invented specifically for thistle control in cereal crops, it can also be used as a ‘clipping’ type of machine as weIl. For non cereal main crops that can’t slip through the cutter (such as lentil, peas, soybeans, etc.) you can raise the CombCut, adjusting the blades to a zero degree angle, to lop off parts of weeds growing above the main crop canopy. In the third week of July last summer, we used CombCut on our lentils when wild oats were developing their seed panicles. Thistles we re just at bud stage-a critical time because that’s when thistle has expended most of its root reserve s and is at its weakest. This timing for using CombCut not only made our lentil harvest easier, it should also have a positive influence on future crops, since thistle patches should prove to be smaller in 2016, and into the future. Same important tips to consider when using CombCut, based on our 2015 experience:
1. It is important to have fairly level ground after seeding.
Use a seeding tool that leaves a minimal furrow, or harrow pack or rad weed after seeding to level the field. Last year, our air seeder left a ~2 inch furrow. When travelling through the crop at 4-1eaf stage, the presence of the furrow made the cutting height less uniform .
2. Strive for a uniform crop stand.
Using higher seeding rates to boost your crop’s ability to compete with weeds is an effective practice used in conjunction with CombCut. A uniform crop s and means the machine passes through a crop that is the same height across the field. Keep in mind that younger cereals are more flexible; if stands are variable in terms of when the crop emerged, be aware that the re is same risk of damaging older, less’flexible plants.
3. Using a second pass for weed control is beneficial.
If weeds are small, they may get missed in the first CombCut pass; in this case, making a second pass will be of benefit. We did a small experiment last year, going over a 400 f t. length twice-the seeond pass was nine days af ter the first-to allow the thistles too short to be cut the first time to get to the right height, and we saw a clear difference in level of weed controI. By improving all of our other agronomic practices, we likely can start to manipulate weed germination and growth somewhat-a new challenge is to get all the weeds to grow at the same time!
The CombCut Machine comes in 2 different models: 21 foot Of 27 foot. Same key enhancements for the 2016 model include: twisted brushes for smoother reel operation (more like a swather) and improved cleaning: and use of direct drive hydraulics (in place of belt drive hydraulics) which improves material flow through the machine. Also, the optional swivel available in the new CombCut models allows it to follow the row contours a bit better. I think that CombCut has the potential to revolutionize organic farming, as a great tool for weed control, reducing the seed bank for future years, and helping with ease of harvest.
Colin and Jennifer Tanner, their five children, and David and Hazel Tanner operate an organic farm west of Regina, near Pense, SK. Impressed by their experience using CombCut in 2015, they have started their own company, Sontanner Sales Ltd, to help encourage the use of this technology to the Prairies and Northern States. ‘they are excited to be a part of CombCut’s growing distribution network in North America”.
For more information about Saskatschewan sales , the Tenners can be reached at email@example.com, @sontannersales (Twitter), Sontonner (Facebook) or by phone at 306-546-5686.