Farm Progress

Tungsten carbide extends life of tillage equipment

Tomorrow’s Tech Today: Element Six aims to keep farmers in field; new high-speed planter and crop camera coming to U.S.

Andy Castillo

June 4, 2024

3 Min Read
EXTENDED LIFESPAN: When fused to duck foot shovels, Element Six’s thin tungsten carbide plates can notably increase the lifespan of tillage equipment. Element Six

In the late 1830s, a blacksmith in Vermont by the name of John Deere invented the first commercially available steel plow to overcome cast iron’s shortcomings. When plowing with the latter, farmers had to pause to scrape prairie soil off the rough plane. Deere's self-cleaning design used soil as its sharpener, keeping growers in the field longer.

While a far cry from Deere’s revolutionary innovation, Element Six — a global materials company headquartered in the United Kingdom — likewise aims to keep farmers in the field by plowing with a novel blend of metals called “tungsten carbide.”

“Standard steel or even hardened steel quickly erodes away as it is being forced through the soil from seedbed preparation or standard tillage for weed control,” says Les Slunecka, key account manager for Element Six in North America. In regions like California, “the soils are basically rocks and junk that’s slid off the mountain. And we’re out there tilling.”

Developed in the 1920s, tungsten was widely used in the electric lightbulb. Slunecka says the company brought it to European farmers by pressing a blend of tungsten carbide, cobalt, nickel and chromium powders into thin plates. The hardened plates were fused to duck foot shovels — significantly increasing their lifespan.

“The return on investment with tungsten carbide tends to be tenfold on tillage equipment,” he says. “You’re talking about getting 10 times more acres done before [a farmer] must replace them. And that’s important because these tools are big and expensive.”

Element Six is working with original equipment manufacturers to bring the material to U.S. farms. Slunecka says extending tillage equipment’s lifespan is beneficial because machinery is getting increasingly expensive. Meanwhile, farmers are being asked to produce more on the same acreage.

“When I grew up on the farm, we were happy to get 80-bushel corn, and we used it for feeding cattle,” he says. “Now, that same land grows 160-bushel corn.”

For more information, visit e6.com.

Väderstad’s high-speed planter
ready for U.S. farm fields

Väderstad is bringing its line of Tempo high-speed planters to the United States. Available for purchase beginning in June, the lineup includes the Swedish brand’s new Tempo K model, a 24-row planter with low-compaction tracks and 30-inch row spacing. It features a 150-bushel central-fill system and an optional 1,500-gallon liquid carrying capacity.

Row units have electric drives, an iPad-based control system and Väderstad E-Control that wirelessly connects to the planter, letting operators alter seed rate and monitor planting performance.

The planter can provide exact seed spacing and consistent depth at speeds of 8 to 12 mph as conditions allow. In addition to corn and soybeans, the Tempo can also plant small-seeded crops, such as sugarbeets and canola, at speeds up to 10 mph. An optional small-seeds kit aids in planting these crops with added stop wheels and specialized closing wheels to maintain consistent seed placement at shallow depths. Visit vaderstad.com.

Cropler launches new camera
to monitor crop health

Ag tech startup Cropler is launching a farm-specific camera that can remotely monitor plants in real time. The camera uses Normalized Difference Vegetation Index and RGB data, along with weather information, to analyze multispectral photographic data. An algorithm identifies markers that signal the onset of plant disease or another crop problem.

The camera is portable, with a rechargeable battery that can operate continuously in the dark for three weeks. It’s powered by a monocrystalline solar panel on clear days. The camera can observe a 5-by-5-meter area, providing daily photos of the field for monitoring crop health. For more information, go online to cropler.io.

About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

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