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Drum Rollers versus Cambridge Rollers: Which is the best post-seeding option for your farm?


Rollers can provide a range of interesting benefits to farm operations when implemented soon after seeding. From improving crop yields to creating improved harvest conditions, they are simple implements that can pack a major punch in the field when used correctly.


Drum rollers tend to be the tools of choice for growers in North America while cambridge rollers are the clear favourites in many areas of Europe. The difference in roller preference is a result of a variety of potential factors, which includes anything from varying soil types and soil management mindsets to the physical proximity of farmers to roller manufacturers. Though there is a clear divergence in roller strategy between Europe and North America, both drum and cambridge rollers possess qualities that can translate well to different farming scenarios on both continents. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the two roller types size up to each other:


Seed to Soil Contact

One of the main purposes of a roller is to improve the seed-to-soil contact of crops after the seeding process: Rollers apply pressure to the upper layers of a seeded field, squeezing the freshly-shifted soil tighter to newly planted seeds. This process exposes the seeds to higher levels of moisture in the soil which, along with the heat from the sun, allows for quick germination and consistent crop emergence.


While both drum and cambridge rollers can serve to improve seed-to-soil contact, the common configuration of cambridge rollers makes them more proficient at the job in most conditions. This is due to their often being built with a high amount of small, independently moving segments, rather than featuring long tubular segments as is often the case with drum rollers.

Cambridge roller flexibility. Photo courtesy of Dal-Bo.

In situations where fields are not perfectly flat, small, independently moving segments allow cambridge rollers to better follow the contours of the land. This superior flexibility leads to a fairly consistent amount of pressure being placed on the soil across the entire width of the implement, leaving each seed relatively equally impacted by the roller.


Drum rollers are effective at providing soil-to-seed contact but, in particularly hill-heavy areas, the long tubes will apply inconsistent levels of pressure on the field. If the middle of a drum roller segment is running along the crest of a hill or a bump, it will provide unintentionally high levels of pressure in the middle of the roller segment, while leaving the soil underneath the outsides of the roller segments largely untouched.


Photo courtesy of Dal-Bo.

All rollers will struggle to create consistent seed-to-soil contact on uneven land but the small, independent segments of the average cambridge roller largely leaves it as the superior seed-to-soil contact option.


Rock Control

Lowering the headers of combines as near to the ground as possible during the harvest season is a common method utilized to control excess crop residue. It allows for a greater portion of the remaining plant material to get shredded in the combine, which helps limit the likelihood that major plugging issues with seeders will occur during the following seeding season and makes it easier for residue to decompose into useful organic matter.


However, running combines with headers very close to the ground raises the risk that rocks will be picked up by the header, which can cause equipment damage, harvest delays, and a variety of costs. Pulling a roller over a newly seeded field can mitigate much of that risk by pounding rocks back into the ground that may have been pulled above the surface of a field by a seeding or planting tool.


While the job of handling surfaced rocks can be reasonably given to either drum or cambridge rollers, drum rollers are the superior choice for the task.

The large and heavy profile of the individual drums on a drum roller leave little doubt regarding the ability of the implement to knock a protruding rock back into the Earth. Drum segments are generally built to be almost excessively durable. They have very few isolated points that are likely to bend or break if they come across a sizable rock in the field at speed. If a rock is particularly stubborn it may leave a slight dent in the drum, however there should be little need to worry about greatly reducing operating speeds to preserve the conditioning of drums while pounding most rocks.


Cambridge rollers can still push a rock into the ground, but their roller segments consist of a significant amount of points that may not fair well when striking a rock without drastically reducing speeds. Of course, in the case that a cambridge roller segment breaks, it will be a less costly repair compared to that of a drum roller due to the segments being much smaller and more easily replaceable on the cambridge roller, but the odds of a segment becoming damaged are much higher as well.


Erosion Prevention

Rollers cause fields to become more even. They push rocks down, reduce the size of dirt clods, and, in general, reduce imperfections. While this can be useful for protecting combine headers and allowing crops to be more easily treated, it can leave soil at a higher level of vulnerability to wind erosion. This is because imperfections in the field create natural windbreaks that insulate much of the field from the ill-effects of wind. If the soil type is right and a field is made to be perfect, without slight bumps, dips and clods, it often does not take long to see a gust of wind skim a healthy layer of productive soil from the surface of a field.


Though both rollers wear down the natural windbreak that can exist on a seeded and pre-rolled field, one significant feature of cambridge rollers leaves them as the clear winner in the erosion prevention category.

Soil profile left by Dal-Bo cambridge roller. Photo courtesy of Dal-Bo.

The roller segments on a cambridge roller consist of wheels and gears that leave behind lines and divots. These lines and divots create uniform marks in the soil that take the place of the untidy natural windbreak left behind by a seeder. Not only do these divots and lines protect from erosion, they also create variations in the location of moisture in the soil layers, which is something that can be beneficial for a crop.


Drum rollers are largely lacking in this aspect. The flat profile that their drums leave behind does little to protect soil from erosion, largely serving only to expose a larger portion of topsoil to elemental effects. If erosion is a major concern for any particular field, it may be worth taking a longer look at cambridge roller options.

Soil profile left by Degelman drum roller.

Price

Rollers, like much of the equipment used in agriculture, are simple machines when you break them down. On a very basic level, they consist of a series of wheels and tubes on basic frames. Unfortunately, unless you are in the market for a used machine, the prices of these rollers are usually quite a bit more than what their simple physical characteristics probably suggest.


Relative to each other, drum rollers have an advantage over the price levels attached to cambridge rollers in North America. Multiple factors are in play as far as the price to purchase is concerned, but we’ll just talk about two of the significant ones.

A Dal-Bo roller. Photo courtesy of Dal-Bo.

Firstly, cambridge rollers are often more complicated than drum rollers. They have more moving parts due to their small segments and the roller segments themselves are often made up of far more pieces compared to the segments on a drum roller. More complicated systems naturally add to costs.


Secondly, drum rollers are regularly made in North America and cambridge rollers are regularly made in Europe. The additional transportation costs required to move a cambridge roller over the sea undoubtedly adds to the price difference between the two roller types.


Summary

Rollers can provide various interesting benefits to a newly seeded crop. The different types of rollers on the market possess various advantages and disadvantages in comparison to each other, and a careful weighing of farm priorities should be completed to help decide what type of roller is best suited for your farm.