We've been short of luck this year with all kinds of things going wrong with weather and markets. But our streak of bad luck broke a couple weeks ago when it came time for us to start looking for a new undercutter. We bought the last new plow for sale in the entire state of Kansas.
Undercutters (others call them sweep plows, blade plows or v-blades. I've never figured out who's right) are hard to come by this year. Our implement dealer in Scott City, Kan., says that because of the record-breaking heat this summer that has rendered chemical fallowing a kamikaze farm practice as weeds close their stomata in the heat and block herbicides from entering through the leaves, no-tillers are switching back to tillage and buying up all the plows on the market.
But that's only the beginning of the troubles no-till farmers are dealing with in this extraordinary year. As custom harvesters who traveled the Plains this year will attest, no-till wheat was the big disaster this year.
Because of the drought, chemical fallowed fields hardened like concrete last fall, which made it impossible for no-till planters to reach deep into the soil where the moisture was. With such shallow planting depth and with no rains arriving last fall to germinate the seed, no-till wheat didn't emerge until the spring. Yield potential under those conditions falls precipitously – by nearly 50%.
And, no-tillers have finally had it with Roundup resistant kochia. Because of some farmers using reduced rates of Roundup instead of the labeled rate over the years so they could save some money, kochia has now evolved to where it can take Roundup like Superman takes bullets. The only guaranteed way to kill kochia now is to tear it out of the ground with a plow.
Add those factors together – heat, hard soils and Roundup-resistant kochia – and you've got a lot of farmers who've had enough with no-till. Unfortunately for many of them, they sold off all their tillage equipment years ago when they made the leap to no-till.
Now they're back on the market this year for tillage equipment, and they're back with a vengeance.
So if you have an undercutter that you highly value, hide it behind the shed and throw a camouflage tarp over it. Otherwise, you might find it missing in the morning.