Vegetable growers’ needs are not all the same. What dictates their requirements in the area of planting equipment depends on acreage, crops grown, harvest and irrigation methods, availability of labor, and markets to be served – just to name a few.
According to Dan Timmer, owner of Mechanical Transplanter Co. in Holland, MI, it comes down to row configuration. A large grower with more acres will need more rows.
The planting method — direct seed or transplanting — also is a factor. Growers who opt for transplanting are looking to reduce labor, explains Timmer. “When people ask about transplanters, they ask ‘How many acres can I do in a day? How many plants can this machine do in an hour?’” In the area of direct seed planters, he adds that growers’ big concern is accurate seed placement to avoid waste.
Mike Graham of Buckeye Tractor based in Columbus Grove, OH, agrees that growers want to avoid waste while weighing labor costs versus investing in machinery. As a supplier of the water wheel planter, which is used by growers with up to 20 acres, Graham says those with limited budgets are going to choose machines that provide them with “the biggest bang for their buck.”
Large Versus Small
Those producing on a larger scale also are concerned with getting the best value; however, other factors must be taken into consideration before determining the configuration of the planter. Steve Spooner of S&S Marketing, based in Sumner, GA, asks producers specific questions about their tillage, harvesting, and irrigation methods.
Tillage, since it is the first step in the process, is a critical factor in determining planter configurations. Proper tillage always boils down to a well pulverized seed bed with a firm, flat planting surface. According to Spooner, the presence of these attributes — or lack thereof — determines the components needed to ensure consistent seed depth and proper planter performance.
“A great deal of attention is always given to a [grower’s] tillage practices to try to overcome potential issues with tillage equipment, variable soil types, and soil conditions,” explains Spooner.
Harvesting equipment and procedures also play a major role in planter configurations. “When planning a planter build, we try to fine-tune the planting operation with the harvesting operation in mind,” he says. “Once we know how the producer will harvest, we can determine the scope and size of the planter along with specialized planter components.”
In addition to finding out how a grower will harvest the crop, Spooner says irrigation methods must be considered. Down the line, he sees planting and irrigation becoming intertwined because growers must decide on a plan for planting and laying drip tape.
“You can’t plant while the ground is too wet, but you can plant and then wet the ground,” he explains. “So a lot of these things feed on the irrigation method, and how we supply water dictates how growers will plant. With water being an expensive commodity, and soon to be a more regulated commodity in the Southeast, we need to offer the most cost effective way to irrigate and figure out the best way to plant, whether it is seeding plants or through plastic.”
Access to the latest technology also is something many growers want. That can become difficult when meeting the needs of small growers, as a steep price tag often comes with higher-tech equipment. Some of these growers, particularly those producing organic vegetables, are somewhat frustrated that the machines they want with the newer technology are cost prohibitive, says Spooner.
“What happens is when they can’t get the technology, they move out of the business,” he says. “We need to keep those growers because they are satisfying a market need.”
S&S Marketing recently redesigned its drum punch planter that plants seed through plastic to meet the needs of the smaller grower and Spooner says the plan is to reduce the price up to 25%. To offer this price reduction, the company is using different drive systems and hitches so the machine will fit the smaller growers’ farming technique.
Versatile And Flexible
As suppliers are catering to the needs of their customers, it is not too much of a stretch to say that no two planters are alike. Bob Sutton of Sutton Ag based in Salinas, CA, agrees, saying he tells growers the planters are “handmade.”
“Every grower wants a different type of roller on the front, etc.,” explains Sutton, a distributor of Stanhay planters since the 1950s. “Some want extreme accuracy and cost is no object, and others want a lower-cost machine that is not at the same level. When a grower comes to us, we sell them the planter that will fit their needs.”
As the goal is to help all growers increase their respective bottom lines, Buckeye Tractor also focuses on flexibility and versatility. The company’s water wheel planter accommodates different row widths, as very few are standard. “Most row widths are based on tractor wheel widths in the 5- to 6-foot range but the standard still can vary from region to region,” adds Graham.
Offering equipment that is increasingly more user friendly is another objective. According to Mechanical Transplanter’s Timmer, his company is currently looking at ways to reduce the number of moving parts on its Carousel Model 5000.
“We have come out with a machine that one person can operate, planting two rows at a time,” he explains. “An operation that had eight people for eight lines now has four people for eight lines. Are they getting the same production done in the same time? Absolutely not. Four people can’t keep up with eight people. But if they have the time, they may look at this option. Not getting as much production but looking at the reduction in labor may save the farm in the long run.”