Rain-flo Plastic Mulch Layer: EP65 | Show Notes

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This is “The Ag Engineering” podcast that rolls right into the details on tools, tips, and techniques that improve you, your farm, and our world. I’m your host, Andy Chamberlain from the University of Vermont Extension, and this podcast is sponsored by Northeast Air. Thanks for listening, this episode comes to you from Westminster, West Vermont where I visit with Howard Prussack of High Meadows Farm. He grows on six acres in the climate zone five and his gross sales are around $350,000. In this episode, Howard talks about his plastic mulch layer and how he uses it as a key production system on his farm. I do wanna apologize off the bat, for the audio is not quite as good in this episode for I somehow did not save the clip off the microphone from his perspective, so you’re hearing it from my microphone which was a few feet away. Sorry about that, but here we go with the show.
We’re looking at a rain flow, 25, 50 mulch layer. What it does is it builds the bed, puts down drip tape by the one or two rows of drip tape, and puts either black, any plastic mulch you want, black, or white, or silver, and covers the edges all in one operation. So it’s ingenious that way, it’s on a raised bed. You could adjust the height of the raised bed or you could even have it flat ground. We do a raised bed, we found that it does, year over year, it’ll increase production. And if you get a really wet year, it’ll save you production from getting too wet, so it’s a great machine, very low maintenance, not to, I don’t find hardly any farm equipment to be expensive except brand new tractors, but most of the specialized farm equipment is appropriately priced for what you’re getting and the labor-saving, and if you take care of it, you know, 20 years later, you could get at least half of your money back, if not more. Sometimes I’ve sold pieces, pieces that I’ve had for 30 years, and I sold it for what I paid 30 years ago. . So it’s hard to beat that, so the mulch lay, bed builder mulch layer is a great machine. And I find Rain-Flo to be really the Cadillac of that genre, there are other makers that make some less expensive machines and they’ll do okay, but for utility and flexibility, the qual, the Rain-Flo is hard to beat and I did, I do have the Ro-Trak which is an automatic leveler that if on a side hill, it prevents the machine from slipping down below the tractor. So it keeps it perfectly perpendicular to the tractor which is very important when you go to plant with a tractor or cultivate or anything like that, so excellent machine.
What’s the cost of a mulch layer with drip tape included in your Ro-Trak units and like?
I’m trying, it was over $4,000, this, my machine now is about 10 years old.
But I don’t think it’s gone up that much in price. I think with the Ro-Trak, I also have, I didn’t mention, there’s a fertilizer hopper on that as well. So I’m putting down up to 13, in the bed, like 1200 pounds of fertilizer per acre and you could adjust the rate and it’s all stainless steel, it’s worth it, so if you, and that’s an expensive add-on, I think it might have been $900 just for that add-on.
But again, it’s stainless steel and it’s worth it. So let’s say I’ve got, roughly, say it’s 5,000 or $5400 plus shipping for that, for that machine. And if you compare it to haying equipment, you realize that specialized vegetable farming stuff is really a bargain and it’s gonna last you, you know, if it doesn’t last you 20 years then you’re doing something wrong. And it’ll, the labor savings on that is so easy to see.
And the increase in production is so easy to see, that it’s really one of those no-brainers, so nobody’s, very few people regret buying them. Sometimes you do find them used. Some people decide after whatever few years, it doesn’t fit their system or they’re changing what they grow and, you know, for whatever reason, but no one ever got rid of it saying, “It’s piece of crap.”
They’re just changing their system and they no longer need it, so if you use it and you don’t have to use it with plastic, you could just, and I do use it just to make a raised bed with drip lines in it.
But most of the time I’m putting down plastic. And if, I’ve saved so many farmers from a life of drudgery of weeding by hand and not getting onion crops, or garlic crops, or squash crops because they’ve lost it to weeds. And, you know, you go to plastic and you’re gonna eliminate 90% of the weeding and the heartache, and you’re gonna double, easily double your yields over non-plastic growing on many crops, I know that because one year we ran, we were laying plastic and we ran outta plastic and we kept on going, half of the bed was plastic and half of the bed wasn’t, so we planted our squash crop and when, go to harvest time, the crop that wasn’t on plastic was half the yield. And it was like the light bulb went out, “Oh, look at that, it’s half the yield.” And what, what’s the difference? There was no plastic, so plastic’s not a miracle. I mean, it is a miracle. But what, and yeah, nobody loves plastic. I don’t like using plastic, but I like being in business.
And it just allowed me to stay in business for, I’ve been in doing this for 50 years. I started using black plastic 47 years ago. So I may have more experience with black plastic probably than almost anybody in the, you know, and, you know, I’m still in business, my soils aren’t poisoned. I’ve seen a lot of this anti-plastic propaganda crap. It’s like, “You’re gonna poison–” No, if my, my soils aren’t poison, my earthworms are really happy, and I’ve got snakes, and I’ve got crickets, I’ve got insects, my organic matter is improved, I’ve prevented erosion, my fertility levels are great. So all that anti-plast, you don’t wanna use plastic, don’t use plastic, that’s fine. That’s, you know, that’s actually better for me. It’s less competition. So I encourage people, don’t use plastic, it’s nasty stuff, ignore everything I said. So yes, getting rid of it, you know, and you know, an acre of plastic, it does, what’s amazing, it’s like, “Oh, an acre of black plastic.” You could fill it like several bushel baskets when you compress it, it’s so thin. You’re talking about one millimeter of, one mill of plastic, and you could cover an acre, 90 pounds of black plastic will do an acre. Come on, you know, it’s like–
Yeah, like the volume.
That’s not the argument to reduce your plastic consumption per say.
No. We’re not destroying the world because, you know, we’re doing several acres with black plastic and drip tapes use one tenth of the water, we’re saving water. We’re preventing disease, I mean, for every cockamamie argument against using plastic, I’ve got 10 substantial real-world arguments why, why you should if you’re going to be in farming and, you know, trying to make a living.
Yeah, yeah.
But again, you don’t have to. There’s ways, farmers, not every farmer uses black plastic and they’re in business, too, I get it.
But for me, and you know, on my land which is very hilly and prone to erosion at times, black plastic has been a conservation tool, so thank you.
The benefits outweigh the cons for you.
For me, and most, most people, everyone has to decide–
Yeah, yep.
For themselves, it’s free, free choice.
Well, was there any, any modifications you’ve had to make to that plastic mulch layer aside from, you know, a few minor adjustments to get the dirt right–
You know, you have to adjust a few conditions, you know, match it to your tractor. You do have to learn to, field preparation is vital. You wanna have as well tilled soil as you can. No lumps of sod, you know, it’s not impossible to lay plastic on a lumpy field, but you’re not gonna like yourself. You’re gonna be cursing and you’re gonna hate it. So you really wanna, and rotavating is really the only way you, and so, if you’re anti-rotavator, you can shut this video now.
‘ Cause I’m also, I’m a pro-rotavator. I’m a pro-plow, pro-rotavator, , person. And it, it prepares the soil really well. So you wanna have well, well-prepared soil for, for laying the mulch, so you have to be prepared for that and you, so you gotta wait, sometimes the weather conditions, it’s too wet and, and this and that. So you learn all those skills of laying, and hillsides and whatnot, and that’s why the Ro-Trak feature is nice, but, you know, sometimes one field is different than the next and, but these are things that you find out pretty quick.
So it’s, they’re fun skills, and in the end, you’re gonna, even doing a so-so job with your mulch layer is still better than not using it, so you’ll be happy.
Save yourself and your crew hours and hours and hours.
The crew loves it.
You know, on a raised bed, you know, if they’re planting by hand, you’re not bending as far, same thing with harvest, you’re not bending as far down to cut something ’cause it’s up six inches off of the ground already, and we’ve had rain, sometimes, I’ve got pictures of harvesting vegetables where we’re wearing boots and standing in water and the vegetables are above the water line ’cause they’re on raised beds and we’re still able to harvest, so.
And it helps in the opposite effect, too when you’ve got a drought of the season, too, right, the plastic does–
Well, the plastic will hold the moisture, there’s the conservation part and the drips are providing water and the plastic is conserving it. So that’s why year in and year out, I’m plastic versus not, you’re gonna get 50% more yield.
Because when you average all those bad and unusual weather conditions, which happen every year. You know, it’s just, it’s a plus overall. You’re gonna, it’s just, just good. But yeah, crew loves dealing with plastic in the field, easier, you know, the weeds are much fewer and all that matters and it’s just better.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it, if I can ask you or direct you to do one thing, that is to go to the website for this podcast, agengpodcast.com, that’s A-G-E-N-G-P-O-D-C-A-S-T dot com. There you’ll find the show notes, you’ll find links to the farmer who we chatted with today as well as photos or videos from the call when I visited the farm. If you’ve got some feedback to share, my contact information’s on there or you can leave me a voicemail and you can do that right from the link in the description in the mobile app you’re listening to this to. So go ahead and do that, thanks again for listening and I hope you have a great day.