Rotary hoes as a crust-busting aid

Rains after planting followed by hot, dry weather may produce soil crusts that can inhibit emergence.

Surface crusting of soils limiting emergence has been observed in a few places around the state. Growers who have crops struggling to emerge through crusted soil may want to consider using a rotary hoe to help break up crust and aid emergence. Michigan State University Extension has a few suggestions on rotary hoe operation.

Start with a test strip. Always check the performance of the machine when starting out and at frequent intervals. As soil types, moisture status and structure changes, so will the performance of the rotary hoe. In particular, carefully and closely examine the emerging seedlings for damage to the growing point or root system. Bear in mind some crop damage will occur by rotary hoeing. The key is to minimize crop damage and maximize emergence. Be particularly cautious when rotary hoeing soybeans or dry beans as they are extraordinarily sensitive to damage at the crook and seedling stage.

Most rotary hoes were designed to be operated at relatively high field speeds. Increasing or decreasing ground speed can affect depth of penetration into the soil and the amount of surface soil disturbance.

Machine maintenance is always important. Many rotary hoes I have seen in use over the years have been well-worn. The tines on the wheels of the rotary hoe are meant to be curved with a slightly broader tip on the ends of the tines, often referred to as a spoon. The curved tine and spoon is designed to lift the soil as it exits. With use, the spoon often gets worn down, decreasing the effectiveness of the rotary hoe. It is also important to check for broken down pressure springs present on many models, as well as stiff or failing bearings on the hoe wheels.

As with all machinery, consult the manufacture’s operating instructions. The operator’s manual will have specific instructions on operation of the tool including proper operating height and speed, and important safety information. Shields are in place for your protection. Keep all safety shields in place.

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