ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Can you recommend the Howard PTO tiller?

Posted September 14, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

Do you have any experience with a PTO tiller, like the Howard? I've got 120 acres of former crop ground that has been in grass for a few years. A lot of the ground is rough from prior renters, gophers, etc. Rather than traditional tillage, I've been looking at tillers in the 10- to 12-foot range. There are none in central Minnesota and I can find no one that has experience with one. The closest Howard dealer is near Chicago, and I'm not going to buy a piece of equipment like this without trying it out. This is corn, bean and black-and-white cow country.

Larry Skoglund
New Mexico

Dear Larry,

Thanks for the email and the question about tillage. The Institute actually owns two Howard Rotovators—a 5 footer and a 7 footer. I wish you lived closer; I'd gladly let you borrow one to see how you liked it. We don't really use the tiller much so my experience is limited, but I'll tell you what I know. We use the 5-foot model in our vegetable operations to prepare a good, one pass seedbed and to incorporate crop residue after harvest. I know there are some folks out there talking about running the tiller over the ground at a fairly fast ground speed to just tear up the surface of the soil at a shallow depth, but I've never tried that.

I'm not sure how you planned on using one if you got one. If your thought was to use it as a one-pass tillage tool at a depth of 8 inches or so, I'd say it would be too slow and damaging to the soil structure (especially if the soil is wet). They really can pulverize the soil, creating a hardpan and destroying the soil structure if used too often that way. If your thoughts are to use it as a fast-moving shallow tiller, I have no experience to help you out. I will say that the Howard equipment we have is well built and has never given us cause to say otherwise. It is tough as nails.

Good luck, and let me know what you end up doing and how it works out.