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Rotary tillers are simple but effective Part 8: This is how you get the best results

Preparation and maintenance, field operation and adjustments, rotor care and pasture renovation: When used correctly, your rotary tiller can give you years of excellent service.

Preparation and maintenance

The life of a rotary tiller depends on the care provided in operation, servicing, and maintenance. Time spent to prepare and care for the machine will be rewarded with better field performance, longer machine life, reduced repair costs and safer operation.

Before each season, the following must be done:

•ensure that the rotary tiller is properly hitched to the tractor;

•check lubricant levels in the gearboxes, and drain and refill them at recommended intervals;

•check all bolts, nuts, and screws for tightness as well as the different cotter pins;

•provide the correct PTO-shaft for the tractor model used;

•check the position of the rotor flanges for the work to be done, for instance broadcast tillage, strip tillage, cultivation, et cetera;

•check the rotor for a proper scroll pattern of the blades; and

check the condition of the blades. Replace damaged blades and use only bolts specified by the tiller’s manufacturer. Tighten the blade bolts to the recommended torque, and recheck after a few hours of operation.

Before the daily operations, the following must be done:

•lubricate the entire machine as recommended;

•check the rotor for loose, bent, or broken blades – if excessive wear appears on the outer surface of the blades, the land speed is too fast for the rotor speed;

•check the machine for loose bolts and loose or broken parts;

•check the rotor for wire, twine or trash wrapped around the shaft – if not removed, such material may ruin seals and bearings; and

•the weed cutting blades at each end of the rotor prevent weeds and heavy trash from wrapping around the rotor – these blades must be checked and adjusted regularly.

A packer roller is mainly used in heavy and sticky soil.

Field operation and adjustments

Only a few adjustments are necessary for satisfactory rotary tiller performance namely:

•level the machine before the operation by adjusting the top link on three-point-hitched tillers. On semi-mounted rotary tillers, the two bottom arms of the three-point-hitch, and also the depth-wheel settings can be adjusted;

•level the tiller side-to-side with the three-point-hitch levelling crank or wheel adjustments, according to machine design and type;

•adjust the gauge shoes or wheels for the desired working depth;

•change the rotor speed to obtain the desired tilling;

•raise or lower the soil shield at the back to obtain the desired tilth;

•change the number of blades per flange according to the soil conditions; and

•arrange the flanges on the rotor according to the work to be done – broadcast tillage, strip-tillage, et cetera.

If large amounts of crop residue, such as maize stalks or straw, are to be incorporated into the soil, it must be done when the material is as dry as possible to permit easier cutting and to prevent plugging and wrapping on the rotor. When tilling maize stalks, adjust the rotor speed and soil shield to obtain the desired tilth at the intended land speed.

Usually, a slow rotor speed and a high soil shield setting provide the best results on the first run, especially when the material is very dry. The straw from small grains must be spread over the fields during the combining process. The rotary tiller must then be operated diagonally across the rows for the best results.

With heavy trash on the fields, two runs with a rotary tiller are usually required. The first run must be at about 100 mm deep, and the second run at full depth. This will mix the trash properly with the soil and leave the soil ready for planting.

If possible, make the second run ten to fourteen days after the first to allow weeds to germinate. Use a fairly fast rotor speed in relation to the land speed but do not over-pulverise the soil. Lower the soil shield to break up clods.

If lots of weeds are present, operate the tiller with a fast rotor speed and the rear shield open so that as many roots as possible are thrown out to the surface to die.

Rotor care

Always straighten or replace bent, badly worn of damaged blades immediately to avoid power wastage and machine damage. When replacing blades, follow the instructions in the operator’s manual. Most blade bolts are specially shaped and hard­ened to match blade and flange design. Use only bolts recommended by the manufacturer.

A crumble roller is mainly used in soil with a low moisture content.

Pasture renovation

For pasture renovation, a first run can be taken to break up the sods at the top. After two or three weeks, lime, fertiliser, and herbicides are applied and at this stage the cultiva­tor can be adjusted to a deeper level to create a seedbed and to mix residue deeper into the soil. After this run, seeding may be done.

For a very smooth seedbed sur­face, a packer roller can be mounted behind the rotary tiller. With its scrapers mounted between each crown of teeth, it is mainly used in heavy and sticky soil.

A crumble roller can also be mounted behind the rotary tiller. With its large diameter and absence of a central axis it reduces the possibility of clogging. It performs best in soil that has a low moisture content.

We thank the ARC Agricultural Engineering in South Africa who made the information on rotary tillers available to the readers of ProAgri Zambia.

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