Test: Novag T-Force Plus

By: Jaiden Drought, Photography by: Jaiden Drought


20200203 115813 Illustration of the inverted T working with seed one side and fert the other 20200203 115813
20200624 112329 The wafer weights on the stock car like wings 20200624 112329
20200624 134448 This was a beautiful finish in conditions ideal for the inverted T boot 20200624 134448

Farm Trader takes an in-depth look at the Novag T-Force Plus

With an increasing emphasis globally on healthy soils, modern no-tillage seed drills are becoming of increasing interest to farmers and contractors 

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The French-made Novag T-Force Plus champions this zero-soil movement, which aims to protect soil biology and prevent soil erosion and weed problems.

Carrfields Machinery is the exclusive distributor for Novag in New Zealand and Australia and believes low-disturbance no-tillage is the future for livestock and arable farming globally.

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The individual seeding coulters lift well out of the ground for headland turning

The no-till system has been around for some decades. I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this knows what a Cross Slot drill is. The inverted T concept arose from research started in the 1960s at Massey University, showing that the need for building carbon in the soil is not a new concept.

I won’t get into the ins and outs of regenerative ag, as there are a lot of opinions on this – and I say, each to their own. I will, however, concede that some elements of the argument do stack up. Building carbon in the soil is important.

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Perfect conditions for the Novag on well-sprayed-out Hawke’s Bay ground

The three things for me that make sense are:

  1. We over cultivate. A lot of the time we cultivate for the sake of it. If you’re not developing land, growing fine root and seed crops such as beetroot or onions, then bashing the soil to a pulp is pointless.
  2. Keep the ground covered. Cover crops help retain nutrients, increase soil water capacity, stop erosion, and aid aeration. The general rule of thumb is to always have your land growing something and not fallow for more than a month.
  3. Planting multiple species. This will give the soil the ability to uptake or utilise nutrient from the atmosphere or lock in the soil through different plant root depths and leaf design in the process of photosynthesis. Clover and multiple grass species with different heading dates are perfect examples of this.

The inverted T boot

How the inverted T boot works: firstly, a large diameter notched disc in the middle creates the slot. An L-shaped blade with a carbide wing on each side of the disc creates a slot: one side for fert, the other for seed (or two separate types of seed if you want).

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This is a great view of the inverted T boot, which makes the Novag unique

The disc itself can be either 20 or 23 inches, with seeding depth of the disc adjusted separately on winders above the press wheels. While adjusting individually is niggly if you want to do all of the coulters, it’s beneficial if you want to seed deeper in the wheel tracks of the tractor or sow maize deep and a clover cover crop (shallow) at the same time.

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The smart-looking bin has a well guarded walkway

The whole opener assembly itself weighs 100kg but ground pressure can be infinitely varied individually, thanks to hydraulic rams with max pressure of 500kg per coulter. All the rams are plumbed into a large hydraulic block where accumulators act as a suspension to allow the openers to follow the ground undulations without varying the downward pressure. Thanks to the parallelogram design, coulter travel is 450mm, which will take the most undulating terrain in its stride.

Where this machine gets particularly high tech is the IntelliForcePlus system, which automatically adjusts the downforce on the move. Most of the time they work in unison, however, the electronic system gets the soil hardness information using sensors mounted on a minimum of two openers, usually one front and one rear. The sensors measure the slot closing force.

The desired press wheel closing force is set by the operator and the system will automatically increase pressure in hard soils and decrease in soft soil, but the closure force under the press wheels will always be the pre-selected amount, perfectly regulating seeding depth.

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Internal distribution heads inside the main tank

In terms of hydraulic requirements, the drill runs off the tractor’s power beyond, which is how the coulter rams constantly maintain ground pressure. Two other spools are needed, one for the hydraulic drawbar and the second for the fan that has its own radiator to help cool down the tractor’s backend oil while also warming up the air around the fertiliser – particularly useful if it’s damp.

Why is the inverted T so special?

Bill Ritchie is the go-to man at Carrfields (the New Zealand/Australia distributor of the Novag T-Force Plus). It would be hard to find a more qualified individual for the job given that he has been involved with no-till technology for more than 40 years starting at Massey University.

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You can get close enough with a normal tractor for loading without a telehandler

Bill probably knows more about the inverted T than the company making these drills, although, they’re pretty clued up too. The basic principles behind it are to create a slot under the surface that traps humidity, creating a microclimate for the seed. Having a layer of soil above the seed ensures perfect seed to soil contact when closing the slot.

Direct drilling can be fickle to get perfect results, and the inverted T system does sidestep some issues often found on standard disc drills.

Hair pinning is the most common. This happens in disc drills under the cutting disc where straw trash lies lengthways in the slot under the seed stopping ideal seed to soil contact. Along with the decay of the straw in the slot, this doesn’t create an ideal environment for perfect germination.

The seed placement with the inverted T is not affected by heavy residues at all. Hair pinning still occurs as with any disc drill, but the straw gets trapped in the furrow below the disc but is not in contact with the seed. This is because the seed does not fall directly into the disc furrow but rather there’s seed on one side and the fert (or second seed type) does the same on the opposite side. As the seed germinates, it picks up the fertiliser and grows through the slot cut by the disc opener.

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When the conditions are good the Novag makes a beautiful job

Two rubber press wheels mounted in a V-shape then close the slot. Either three-inch or four-inch rubber press wheels can be spec’d. During our test, the three-inch would have suited the tacky wet conditions to reduce the amount of soil sticking to the wheels, but then the four-inch were perfect in the sprayed-out ex-pasture paddock where the drilling job was superb.

The sheer weight of the frame means natural downforce is up to 400kg. To get to the max of 500kg downforce, first (due to the laws of physics), you need 500kg per coulter of weight to push against. That is where wafer weights on either wing can be added to achieve that max pressure. The beauty with these is that it puts less stress on the main chassis, as this weight is not just added to the drill, and then large hydraulic rams push the wings down. This keeps that weight on the outside of the wings.

This weight arrangement on the outer wings is also why Novag can have eight- and nine-metre drills with this level of downforce. The nine-metre is a particularly impressive piece of engineering. 3.5 tonnes of wafer weights can be added to the wings with a max machine weight of 26 tonnes over 48 coulters, which is 540kg per disc.

Hopper

Standard arrangements for the three-, four-, and 4.5-metre models is a large 4200-litre hopper with a moving partition to adjust the capacity ratio to 33/67% or 45/55% depending on drilling requirements. The option of two extra 120-litre small seed bins (which our test machine had) adds a huge amount of flexibility.

The two main hoppers use the Accord metering system, with increased capacity to allow for larger fert sowing rates. The two smaller hoppers get their own metering units and have removable seed cartridges (like on many air seeder hoppers) to sow a variety of seeds, including maize and fodder beet. All the hoppers are controlled by Novag’s own in-house designed seven-inch control box.

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The lack of an ISOBUS option is illustrated with a cab full of monitors (tractor, GPS and drill)

This gives an impressive four product delivery system with the small rear boxes having the ability to be connected to the main air flow, meaning you can customise how it’s applied in the slot: with the seed, with the fertiliser, on all rows, on some selected rows, or even broadcasted behind the machine (slug bait) while the seed counting and block sensors give peace of mind.

There are, however, two downsides here. There’s little room under the drill to scurry around for bulk seed dumping, although, calibration using an external CAL button on each hopper does somewhat mitigate this. The second downside is that while the monitor is functional and user-friendly, it doesn’t offer ISOBUS connectivity. All tractors that have the power to pull this will have ISOBUS capability and the addition of this would streamline an already smart and sleek looking machine.

Summary

To be fair to the capabilities of this machine, it must be pointed out that testing a drill in the conditions we did is not really a fair representation of its abilities and performance. In the first paddock, conditions were marginal. At our first test site, while the 230hp tractor wasn’t struggling for power, it was battling for traction.

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You can see the tilth created from the boot coming off the press wheels

On the second farm, 10 minutes down the road, we used the same winter barley seed and same fert rate – everything was the same apart from the ground. This time we tested the Novag in ex-pasture sprayed for 10 days and the drill performed superbly. If the paddock hadn’t been sprayed at all, it probably would have been better again, as the alive root structure like that seen in high cover crops is a game-changer for this machine.

Firstly, there’s more traction for the tractor, so there’s no scuffing for the drill to contend with. Secondly, the well-secured roots offer more resistance to turn the disc, which, in turn, makes it easier to pull. Trash clearance is no problem, so suddenly, this drill goes from performing in paddocks that were marginal for drilling to excelling in paddocks where others simply wouldn’t dare.

I like this drill a lot. Bill Ritchie is also extremely passionate about it, is full of knowledge, and was a part of the inverted T concept, which is a great piece of design. Novag has combined this with a sleek piece of European design for an impressive result. The price and power requirements will scare a few off, but for farmers and contractors who want to apply the no-till concept and want to be in the box seat ahead of regulations, the Novag is a must view.

Novag T-Force Plus Specifications

T-ForcePlus

450

Dimensions

 

Working width

4m
Total length with drawbar 6.5m

Height with standard equipment

3m

Empty weight

7.5T

Additional weight: Ballast

1200kg

Max. technical weight

12T
Openers  

Row spacing

17.5cm, 19cm, 25cm

Numbers of rows

23, 21, 16

Recommended power

200hp
Hitch

Tow eye or ball hitch

Hopper  

Main double hopper

4200L (2200L/2000L or 1500L/2700L)

Auxiliary bin

Up to 2 optional 120L bin, each with their own metering unit

Pseudo-singulation (maize)

6 or 8 rows

Standard tyres/tracks sizes

800/45 R 26,5

Hydraulic flow requirement

>50L/min

Pros

  • Inverted T slot drilling system
  • 450mm individual coulter travel
  • IntelliForcePlus system with downforce applied by a hydraulic cylinder on each opener, from 100 to 500kg
  • Flow sensor on each hopper metering system, hydraulic drive with Variable Rate Control
  • Can drill accurately through significant trash/cover crops
  • 7" monitor and intuitive joystick
  • Wafer weights keep weight on the outside of the wings
  • Heavy-duty braked axle with large 800/45R26.5 flotation tyres
  • Load sensing system for coulters and metering with sperate fan spool c/w Oil cooler/Air warmer
  • Transport width 3m

Cons

  • Power requirements are high, particularly on hills
  • More susceptible to perfect drilling conditions particularly in light and/or tacky soils
  • Because wafer weights are on the outside of the wings, there’s a big gap between the outside of the drill and the first coulter for drilling along headlands

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