Q: Does your plow do as good of a job as a frame-mounted or self-propelled plow?
We’ve heard all the sales pitches and claims that other plows work better. Here’s the deal: Being a pull-type plow means the plow ‘floats’ in the soil, using it’s drag to hold itself in the ground, and using it’s pitch to adjust grade and depth. This is proven to be an extremely accurate method of controlling grade, and means that external forces acting on the tractor (e.g. going over bumps) have no effect on tile placement. Provided everything is properly calibrated and setup, and an accurate RTK signal is being fed into the plow control system, there are very few situations where you shouldn’t expect placement accuracy that matches a ‘contractor’ plow (even in rocky ground, contractor plows are subject to deflections). Typically, it is mistakes made by the operator or inexperience in designing the system that cause tile drainage installations to fail or not to operate as desired. This is where our existing clients tell us that working with us has helped them do things the right way from the start. When we started the company, we knew that we needed to know everything there is to know about using the equipment we sell, and be able to provide consulting services and advice to our clients. Every plow we sell comes with a full setup and training in correct operation, and our advice is always free to our clients. For those needing a little more help we can provide a host of consulting services including land surveying, drainage design, mapping, permit applications, and more to ensure that your system will work as intended.
Q: Why would I want to install my own tile?
There are two main reasons people come to us and purchase their own tiling equipment. First is the cost saving compared to having tiles custom installed. Typically $200-$300 per acre can be saved (even after taking into account the use of your tractor and labor etc) on larger pattern tile projects. The second reason is that you can tile your land on your schedule, and not have the headache of finding a contractor willing to undertake smaller projects or projects where you just want to target specific areas.
Q: How much horsepower does it take to pull the tile plow?
Weight and traction play a bigger part than raw horsepower – you will spin to a stop before you stall the tractor. In our experience, most western Canadian buyers are looking for either pattern tile installation in fairly heavy soils, or looking to drain depressions through ridges and therefore need to be deep in some places. Therefore, a 400+hp, 40,000lb+ 4WD or tracked machine will be required to pull the tile plow in most cases. At some point you will most likely need to hook on a second tractor too, for example if you are installing 8″ or 10″ pipe at or near maximum depth, or where traction is an issue. Traction tends to be more of an issue than horsepower in many cases.
Q: How deep can I go with it and what size pipe can I install?
The pull-type tile plow has a maximum working depth of 6.5′. In our experience, we try to avoid going deeper than 6′ wherever possible (by scraping-off ridges etc prior to installing, for example). Changeable tile boots are available in 4″, 6″, 8″ and 10″ sizes, giving you the ability to install 3″, 4″, 5″, 6″, 8″, and 10″ pipe. It is worth considering using multiple smaller pipes (e.g. 2 or 3 x 6″ pipes instead of an 8″ or 10″), as this will likely have a comparable material cost, and you’ll have an easier time dealing with the smaller pipes.
Q: Can’t I just tile by eye without using Intellislope and RTK?
You could, but if you want your investment in tile to perform correctly and last for many many years, then you will definitely want to use RTK grade control.
Q: I’m confused about the difference between Intellislope and RTK – do I need both?
This is a common question and point of misunderstanding. Intellislope is a computerized grade control system that requires an input from an RTK GPS receiver. You can run just about any brand of RTK, so for example if you already have John Deere RTK you would simply take one of your RTK receivers and install that on the plow, and we’d supply the required cables to power it and feed the RTK information into the Intellislope system. Intellislope is built into the Ag Leader Integra Display (when you purchase Intellislope from us you receive an Integra Display with Intellislope unlocked in the display). Whether you run Intellislope or any other method of grade control you still need to have GPS receivers that are unlocked to RTK and transmitting RTK signals.
Q: What happens if I have lots of rocks?
Rocks are not a friend of any tile plow, or installer. Large rocks above tile installation depth are generally not an issue (unless they are so big they stop you dead) because the tile plow will heave them out. The biggest issue is rocks at install depth because the plow will not be able to get under them to heave them upwards, but rather the plow is lifted and the installed pipe is therefore above the intended grade. In these situations, the operator either stops on top of the rock and restarts the install from this point (thus not going off-grade), or the location will need to be flagged for excavation later. Our advice to clients worried about rock hits is to pre-rip their runs before installing (this means to perform a dry-run (without tile) a little shallower than the planned install depth, and to mark the location of any rocks the plow hits for excavation prior to installation.)
Q: How many feet or pipe (or acres) can I install in a day?
Many factors affect how many feet you can lay in a day. As a guide, our experience has been that about 25,000 to 35,000 feet (or 25 to 35 acres) in a day is realistic for pattern tile projects, and about 5,000 to 10,000 feet per day if we are installing 6 or 8 inch pipe to drain potholes. We’ve found pattern tile projects to be where owning your own plow really pays off quickly; let’s say you have your header pipes trenched-in by a custom outfit during the summer months, then you just focus on plowing your 4″ laterals in fall, in many cases you could be installing 40,000′ in a day at a net cost saving of around 20 cents/foot (after taking account of your operating costs).
Q: Can I install in both directions with this system?
Yes, you can install both uphill and downhill with Intellislope, but we do not recommend it. The safest way to ensure accurate placement and grade is to install uphill, then survey your next run on the drive back. Commercial installers often install in both directions to maximize efficiency and reduce down-time on their slow return drive, however, there are issues where they hit rocks going downhill (and can’t recover because the tile is off-grade). Installing both ways also requires that you pre-survey each run ahead of time, then transfer the survey data into the plow control system. So again, our advice is install uphill, survey downhill, and enjoy the feeling of doing it right!
Q: How do I design my tile system or check if runs will work before I go out to the field to tile it?
For targeted projects (e.g. draining potholes) most plow owners drive the runs with the plow in survey mode to verify they will work prior to stringing out pipe. For more complex projects and all pattern tile jobs, we strongly recommend designing the entire system on computer. This is something you could do yourself by surveying the field using RTK, then using the SMS software program to design your layouts. Alternatively, this is a service we can provide, and many of our clients opt to have us undertake this work for them, then provide a complete design as well as all the required specifications and maps required for permit applications.
Q: My equipment dealer is suggesting I go with their radio or cell based RTK for tiling, what do you think?
For tiling it is always recommended to use a mobile base station that you set up on the field you are tiling. The only time we’d endorse running on a network is if all your land is within a couple of miles of the dealer’s base station. A cellular system will mean you are likely tens of miles from the actual base station (even if you are close to a cell tower this doesn’t mean you are close to the base). We have yet to find anyone that will stand behind these systems when we ask them to guarantee they are accurate enough for tiling, however we do have several plow owners running on these systems without reported issues – but again, we do NOT endorse this practice.
Q: I’ve heard that tractor-drawn plows don’t hold grade as well as self-propelled plows, and that the Soil-Max plow isn’t ‘certified’. What’s the deal here?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the plow itself is simply an implement that is controlled via hydraulics in order to place the tile at the required depth and grade. The vast majority of potential causes of inaccuracy come from the equipment used to control it, or installing too fast so the hydraulics cannot keep up with grade changes. There is no reason the Soil-Max plow (or any other brand of plow) should not be able to install with equal accuracy to a self-propelled plow provided the RTK and grade control systems are correctly setup and calibrated. Regarding certification, this is an Ontario standard, whereby commercial plows must pass a test to place tile accurately. A plow that is certified has passed this test on a given day with a given grade control setup, and the same plow could just as easily fail the test if it were setup with a sub-standard RTK system, or the grade control system was incorrectly calibrated. The Soil-Max plow is a plow targeted at farmers (farmer-owned plows don’t require certification in Ontario), and has a very small market share in the contractor market, so it would not make sense to incur the significant costs to undergo certification in Ontario.