Crust busting: some thoughts on rotary hoes

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

Quite a few folks were lucky enough to start planting earlier this month before some of the big rains. With dry weather and summer-like temperatures over the past couple of days some of those fields are getting crusty. Crusty enough to where corn seedlings are having trouble emerging. Many are thinking of pulling the ‘ole rotary hoe out of the back corner of the shed or are angling to borrow the neighbors. Here are 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 of the soil changes so too will the performance of the rotary hoe. In particular check, the emerging seedlings for damage to the growing point and or root system. Bear in mind some crop damage may be done by rotary hoeing. The key is to minimize crop damage and maximize emergence. Be particularly cautious rotary hoeing 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 that I have observed in use this spring are quite 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 which decreases 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 and or failing bearings.

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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