Reviews

Superseeder 636 drill

Jaiden Drought discovered Canada can diver quality products like the Superseeder 636 drill.

To go off topic and give you some tasty music industry goss, did you know that the lead singer of Canadian band Nickelback, Chad Kroeger, is marrying Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne? And more disturbingly (apart from the fact that I’m even mentioning this), trashy gossip magazines feel the need to shorten and combine their names, so the couple is now known simply as ‘Chavril’?

Anyway, that diversion aside and back on topic, this month I tested a piece of kit that also has a Canadian influence, along with a combined name, but is far from trashy – it’s the new SuperSeeder drill, designed by Ben Tait and built right here in New Zealand.

The test was carried out at the foothills of the Southern Alps near the mid-Canterbury settlement of Mayfield, an area that tests machines to their limits on a daily basis. As I drove towards the test site I could literally see the soil change in make-up from swampy loams to very gravelly soil peppered with piles of rocks in most paddocks. Until recent times these had to be picked up by hand.

Trying to cultivate this kind of land would be near impossible, so direct drilling has revolutionised agriculture in this area and the conversion from sheep to dairy is now the rule, rather than the exception.

Ben Tait and his family run a business called Taits Riverlea which includes contracting and farming just outside Mayfield. The home farm is 250ha with an additional 150ha of lease ground. Of that, 400ha is half in crop with wheat and barley while the other half is grass and radish for seed. The contracting operation runs three tractors and carries out cultivation, direct drilling and maize planting services for their clients within a 50km radius of home base. With the dairy job in full swing in the region, the largest area they have sown in a season was 5000ha, while the average remains just over half that.

Within the last four seasons there have been six new 6m drills sold to contractors within a 20km radius of Tait’s Mayfield yard, so the need to have good gear on hand that can handle the challenging local conditions is essential to remain competitive.

For years’ the Tait’s tried various seed drills but seemed to be throwing an awful lot of money at them, so a couple of years ago they had had enough and were determined to find a drill that would last the distance while requiring little in the way of expensive maintenance.

In June 2010, Ben and his Canadian wife Stephanie took a trip to Canada, at a time when Canadian company, Bourgault Industries, had just released its 3710 opener. Stephanie had grown up on a large arable farm in Saskatchewan Province, and her family have long known the reliability and durability of Bourgault equipment. Interestingly, her father and uncle played key roles in the development of the mid-row application of nitrogen fertiliser in the early 1990s.

During the Tait’s visit they checked out a lot of Bourgault gear and even visited the factory. Although Bourgault now supplies over 50 percent of the new drill market in Canada and also has a strong hold in Northern America (along with market share in the vast acreages of Russia, northern Europe and Western Australia), in 2010 they didn’t manufacture a drill that was ideally suited to New Zealand’s conditions.

Ben was so impressed by the Bourgault brand that in the winter of 2011 he and Stephanie became the New Zealand distributors of the Canadian company’s range, trading as Canzquip Ltd. They then began designing a drill which would be specifically suited to New Zealand’s conditions. The result was the SuperSeeder 636 – designed and built here in New Zealand using Bourgault’s technology and componentry. Bourgault in partnership with Canzquip is now looking to export to Australia. 

Design and build

The main reason behind designing and building the SuperSeeder drill was the nature of the stony local conditions, primarily irrigated dairy land. The Tait’s previous drill had great coulter travel but was made with American-style spring openers which work in broad acre applications, but couldn’t handle the punishment of stony terrain. With repairs and maintenance on the drill costing over $15 per ha for the 15,000ha they drilled (not including purchase price), it’s no surprise Ben thought there had to be a better way.

They designed everything on the SuperSeeder to match and outperform their previous drill while keeping the 6.0m, 36-opener layout. The coulters, the hydraulic system that runs it, the pressurised lid, the fan and the hydraulic metres are all imported direct from the Bourgault factory.

The seeding heads are Amazone, while the seed rate controller is the Topcon X20 version with seed rate controlled software, integrated with GPS and autosteer capability with the John Deere 8230 they pull the drill with. The frame and tank are built in New Zealand by BJ Scarlett; also the manufacturer of the Scannell range of farm equipment and other heavy duty industrial equipment. To say it is well built is definitely an understatement. 

Access and tank design

The tanks are manufactured specifically for the SuperSeeder drill and are bolted on rubber mounts to reduce vibration. They’re powder-coated for a smooth finish, but also to protect against corrosion from fertiliser. I personally like the New Zealand made drills over the European air-seeders, mainly because they are much easier to load seed bags on. The SuperSeeder is no different with two levels of gratings so you can throw the seed up from the ground onto the first one, and then up onto the top of the bin. Both levels have safety rails and sufficient room for additional bags of seed, although the two 2000L tanks and the smaller 200L tank should prove to be ample. The SuperSeeder is fitted with a crane for bulk filling.

The tanks are pressurised, taking advantage of the Bourgault auger meters which allow high application rates. The sealed tank also provides other benefits in terms of moisture resistance, with good protection against wet weather. Because fertiliser attracts moisture, the air-tight tank combats this, in turn battling corrosion in the hopper without the extra expense of stainless steel.

The only down-side to the pressurised tank system is any air-leak with either a small crack or a faulty lid seal will result in different sowing rates than desired. Due to the noise of the fan, will be hard to detect while you’re sowing.

Metering and calibration

The SuperSeeder drills run Bourgault air fans, and 100mm charge lines in either a single or double-shoot configuration (depending on spec). The fans are fitted will an oil cooler, which cools the tractor oil but uses the heat to pump warm air into the tanks.

Calibration is fast and easy. Simply unclip the meter hose, prime the meter until product comes out, reset the monitor then run the meter for a few minutes into a bucket. Next enter the weight into the monitor with your desired sowing rate, refit the meter hose and you’re done.

The major benefit of this drill for arable users is the hydraulic-driven seed rate controller; the only one of its kind in New Zealand, it allows much higher sowing rates to be achieved.

Most other drills have a venturi set up where the seed is sucked to the bottom of the tank. Air is pushed from the fan through the cavity where the seed drops down into the venturi. The air is pushed in large volumes from the fan into the small lines off the seeding towers. This reduction in pipe diameter increases the airflow and pushes the seed to the coulters.

The SuperSeeder runs a different system where the pressurised tank provides equal pressure on both sides of the meter. A small air line from the meter outlet pipe is fed into the tank which equalises the pressure. Because the tank is pressurised and air-tight, the path of least resistance for the seed is always through the auger to the coulters. The advantage of the pressurised tank is its simplicity; it requires no moving parts as the seed is augered directly from the bottom of the hopper, which is driven by a hydraulic motor and the seed rate is varied via the tractor’s oil flow. Because the volume of air in the tank must be moved somewhere, you can auger as much product as you like as you’re only restricted by the amount of oil you can pump. 

Coulter design

Because the SuperSeeder drills in such tough conditions where rocks are the size of basketballs, the huge 500mm travel on the coulters is their point of difference. The coulters and the press wheels are mounted on a parallelogram design which allows you to place hydraulic pressure on the coulter and the press wheel, as well as climbing over any significant obstacles independently.

The disc is set on a five degree horizontal and 10 degree vertical angle. The discs are also set opposite to each other (that is, the left wing discs are opposite to the right wing discs). Due to this set angle, the single disc has the ability to penetrate even the hardest ground while maintaining excellent trash-clearing ability.

Each coulter weighs 125kg; multiply by 36 coulters and this weight makes up nearly half of the drill’s 9.5-tonne tare weight. Of this, up to 270kg can be placed on each disc, although 200kg of that goes on the disc and 70kg on the press wheel; another example of how the drill achieves excellent results in a variety of challenging conditions.

The openers have 16 depth settings (in 6mm increments), held in place by depth-stopping pins. The large, rubber press wheel is connected to the depth gauge wheel by a walking beam. If you choose, the gauge wheel can be locked in an ‘up’ position so that the press wheel alone sets the opener depth. This in turn increases the downward pressure on the press wheel for closing the seed furrow in tough, dry conditions. The hydraulic pressure on the coulters is controlled through a basic but effective controller inside the cab. The down-pressure is measured on the monitor with a gauge, while the raising and lowering is via a rocker-switch. Everything else is taken care of through the Topcon controller and the auto-steer guidance of the tractor.

Maintenance

The only daily grease nipples on the SuperSeeder are on the two-point hitch. The weekly grease points include the frame folding and HIAB crane (if fitted). The openers have two grease nipples on each of the adjustable tapered roller bearings; these only have to be greased every 250 hours. The low disturbance boots have a tungsten leading edge and are easily adjusted up a spline as the disc wears. The side-draft slop that is created after wear on the machine only requires simple ‘click in’ plastic shims, which slot into the gap. This cheap fix is a much more cost effective alternative to stripping and re-bushing the whole coulter assembly.

The tungsten boot tips on this machine have drilled 1700ha and still look brand new because inadvertently they are hidden behind the disc, due to the angle it’s set on. Because it comes into marginal contact with the ground, this stops the shoots blocking with sticky soil and Ben firmly believes they may never actually need replacing. 

Verdict

Ben Tait designed this drill with three things in mind; large coulter travel, simplicity and low ongoing maintenance. He has well and truly achieved these with over 500mm of coulter travel, mounted on a simple parallelogram design with few moving, chattering parts. The only things that may ever need replacing are the discs and bearings. These will wear out on any drill, so the ongoing cost of running the SuperSeeder will be very low. In fact in most cases I’d suspect considerably lower than some drills even half its size. Not bad for a Canadian-Kiwi hybrid. 

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Photography: Jaiden Drought

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