Review: John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill

By: Tom Dickson

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Technical Editor Tom Dickson takes a John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill for a trial to see if the disc seeder is a viable alternative to tine models


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Disc seeder vs tine seeder … which is the better machine and which will give you the best results? Well, that’s a discussion that could go on forever because each has its pros and cons depending on soil type, location and preferred farm practices.

If you’re adopting minimum till, stubble and moisture retention cropping practices then a no-till air seeder is quite possibly the best option. However, if your soils require constant cultivation to maximise germination than a tine seeder may be the way to go. Then, of course, you need to factor in which style of drill would be better suited to raised bed and broadacre cropping.

Australian farmers are, through necessity, developing more sustainable farming practices which are opening the door for disc seeders being a better option in the sowing process.

The most obvious advantage the disc seeder has over the tine version is its ability to sow directly into heavy stubble. The leading disc slices effortlessly through the residue of the previous crop, creating a neat furrow for the seed to be placed in while hardly disturbing the surrounding soil.

A tine seeder will often block up and leave clumps of straw which create a perfect habitat for slugs and other damaging pests.

Burning the stubble improves the performance of tine seeders but is now considered less favourable for environmental reasons, and conserving moisture during unpredictable weather patterns is at the forefront of every farmer’s planning nowadays.

A bird’s eye view of the 1890 in action in south-west Victoria

Put to the test

The driveway is lined with silos, a variety of grain augers are scattered about the place, and all sorts of cropping equipment is parked ready to go on the McGuinness grain and sheep production property in western Victoria, about 50km east of Hamilton.

Taking pride of place out the front is a collection of green and yellow machinery that would have anyone driving past thinking that the McGuiness family have swapped sheep grazing for deer farming.

John Deere, that is.

The massive combination that dwarves everything else parked within 50m of it consists of a new John Deere 1910 triple-bin air cart and the latest release John Deere 1890 No-Till disc air seeder.

Given the task of hauling this demonstration sowing unit around the country, with the aim of dispelling some of the myths surrounding disc air seeders, is a John Deere 8320R Row-Crop tractor. Duals on the rear will help make sure that all of the 320 horses parked under the bonnet get a good footing on the ground. 

It’s a sight that would make anyone envious, and even though Dave McGuiness isn’t yet sold on the idea of disc sowing on his farm, he does say to Cervus Equipment sales representative Clayton McDonald that he is more than welcome to leave it behind at the end of the day.

McGuiness says they always invest wisely into their crops and spend appropriately in order to maximise the yield.

"We welcome the trials on our property to see first-hand how the disc seeder works in direct comparison to our traditional tine machine," he tells me.

"If it turns out that it does a better job sowing directly into standing stubble, if it handles the soil conditions okay, and if the germination rates are as good or better compared to our machine, then we would certainly consider changing over."

The air seeder is raising the bar in the push toward minimum till cropping practices

Walkaround

John Deere’s trademark quality is easily recognised with the first glance at the 1890 No-Till seeder bar. It oozes skilled workmanship and strength of design.

But, as we know, by nature farmers can often be sceptical of change, so John Deere’s reputation for quality alone won’t be enough to convert the masses – it will have to prove itself in the field as a genuine alternative to a tine seeder.

The frame is where the strength and reliability starts. Get the foundation right and you’ve got a good base on which to build.

The 12.2m-wide model we are looking at consists of a 4.6m main, or centre, section with a 3.8m folding wing attached either side.

The main frame is constructed of 6x4-inch steel cross members with 6x2-inch end bracing, which creates a really solid structure for the sowing units and other equipment to attach to.

When operating in its working configuration, its total weight is distributed evenly across eight sets of dual wheels with floatation type tyres. The wide, low-impact type tyres cause very little compaction at all when they pass over the ground.

With the two side wings folded up for transportation, the total width reduces to 5.6m and four of the eight sets of dual wheels are left to carry the load.

The four sets of front wheels mount to the frame using a caster-type design, which helps it follow nicely behind the tractor and, in our test, proved invaluable when negotiating through gateways that left no room for error. Knocking over gateposts is not only embarrassing but can cause serious damage to machinery.

The John Deere has a total of 64 disc sowing units spread evenly over two bars along the full width of the machine sowing at 7.5-inch spacing.

A feature of the 1890 is that you can lift the rear bar and lock it in the up position, disconnect and block off the air hoses leading to that bar, and then operate it as a single-bar seeder sowing at 15-inch spacing.

Lots of time and effort can be saved when switching from cereals to beans or other crops that perform better on wider row spacings.

When the rear bar is locked in the up position the 1890 converts to a single-bar unit, sowing at 15-inch row spacings

On the job

The heart of the No-Till seeder is definitely the sowing disc assembly itself. Slicing through the stubble and soil with minimum disturbance and drag requires far less horsepower than its tine seeder counterparts do. The effects of wear are reduced and fuel consumption is potentially improved.

Each of the 64 sowing units consist of an 18-inch cutting disc, a depth gauge wheel, press wheel and, finally, a closing wheel.

The cutting wheel is mounted at a 7-degree angle to increase its aggressiveness in extra-heavy stubbles. Up to 181kg of hydraulic downward pressure can be applied to the sowing bar, and a hydraulic dampening spring on each sowing unit extends and retracts to allow it to safely ride over obstructions in the soil.

The maximum downward pressure on each bar is set manually. The mechanism, which consists of a pressure regulator with pressure gauge, is conveniently located at the front of the machine directly behind the tractor where it can be seen by the operator at all times. Downward pressure can be adjusted through the hydraulics from within the cabin up to the preset maximum.

The semi-pneumatic depth control wheel is 4.5 inches wide and 16 inches in diameter. It has 14 6mm adjustments ranging 13 to 89mm.

Altering the sowing depth is done by manually sliding a lever through a series of notches on each unit. It is a fast and effortless operation that requires no tools to complete. The rear row of the sowing units is pretty easy to access when making adjustments, but getting access to the front row through the framework is a little trickier.

The seed boot is manufactured from cast iron for improved durability and a nylon deflector plate at the bottom of each boot helps keep the seed firmly positioned at the base of the furrow.

A 19 x 229mm press wheel firms up the soil around the seed to maximise germination and, being made of rubber, it resists the build-up of soil on its surface.

Finally, a 12-inch cast iron closing wheel trails at the rear to seal up the furrow. It can be set to run directly over the top of the furrow or slightly to one side.

Downward pressure can be adjusted on both the press wheel and closing wheel without the use of any tools. Each has a simple yet effective hand-operated mechanism with three settings that can achieve up to 20kg of downward force.

The seeder bar is set up with eight towers, each with eight air hoses delivering seed and fertiliser to the sowing discs. One of the eight hoses on each tower has an electronic sensor that alerts the operator to any blockages in the system.  Each air tower is fitted with a twist-off lid for quick and easy access.

When I first saw it operating, my impression was that it just wasn’t doing enough with regard to penetration into the soil. But, getting down on my hands and knees for a closer look, I found that it was slicing down to about three inches and leaving only a slight furrow line on the surface after the press wheel and closing wheel had done their job.

While I was on bended knee, I had a bit of a scratch around in the dirt in search of a seed or two and found a few right at the bottom of the furrow.

For obvious reasons, the 1890 seeder bar matches perfectly with the 1910 air cart that forms the other half of the display unit, but there is no reason why it could not be coupled to a different cart that you may already be in possession of.

It is impossible to say anything other than it’s an easy piece of equipment to operate because, once I was behind the wheel, all I had to do was lift it for corners then reset the auto steer. I had the speed set at about 13km/h and it seemed to be doing it easy. I could hardly hear any of the 320 horses under the bonnet complaining at all.

At the end of the job, I had it folded and locked into place ready for transport in under a minute without leaving the comfort of the cabin.

The Active Hydraulic Down-Pressure feature applies consistent down force, between 75kg and 181kg, on each disc opener

The bottom line

In broadacre cropping I see no reason – except for maybe excessive moisture – that could prevent the John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill from performing well, especially in stubbles where tine machines often struggle.

I am curious to find out how its performance would be when operating on raised beds. I don’t doubt that it would still provide good seed placement and slice through any leftover stubble residue on the surface of the bed, but there is no way of lowering individual disc units to  sow into the furrows between the beds which some farmers prefer, especially when using narrower bed spacings.

There are many who will remain sceptical and want see the results for themselves, but from what I have seen the 1890 disc seeder could well be the way of the future.

Its ability to sow directly into heavy stubbles, eliminate the need to burn and help maintain soil moisture will undoubtedly set the seeds of curiosity for progressive operators in the cropping industry. 

The combo of a John Deere 8320R Row-Crop tractor, 1890 No-Till disc air seeder and 1910 triple-bin air cart we used for testing The combo of a John Deere 8320R Row-Crop tractor, 1890 No-Till disc air seeder and 1910 triple-bin air cart we used for testing The combo of a John Deere 8320R Row-Crop tractor, 1890 No-Till disc air seeder and 1910 triple-bin air cart we used for testing
The John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill could well be the way of the future The John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill could well be the way of the future The John Deere 1890 No-Till Air Drill could well be the way of the future

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