In order to make rational equipment choices it is necessary to have an understanding of the direct seeding principles. These principles include: Trash management, weed control, and seedbed integrity.
Direct seeding starts in the fall of the previous year with trash management. This means spreading the straw and chaff uniformly over as wide an area as possible. Weed control is very important and starts in the fall as well. That means controlling the perennials as well as the winter annuals. Depending on the time of seeding in the spring, a spring weed burn off may or may not be necessary. Of course you can do all of this and then go and wreck everything by not maintaining a good, firm seedbed. However, I believe that a good seeding tool will allow me to place both fertilizer and seed with sufficient separation between the two so as to not damage the seedlings and at the same time, allow the seed to be placed into a firm seed bed. It will also have good trash clearance.
If I had known all of this in 1977, when I first started direct seeding, I would have missed out on the joys and frustrations of being a direct seeder. Currently there are many choices in direct seeding equipment that can make it easier or more confusing in deciding what to use. Today, I will share with you my progression of equipment choices since 1977.
I started out with 28 feet John Deere hoe drill with 2 row, seven inch spacing. This was a great machine for seeding into trash free soil, however, it was a nightmare seeding into trash. There was very little trash clearance, even on the sunniest of days. At this time, the majority of my fields were in min-till, so to deal with the trash issue, I started using discers. This was a John-Deere 1900 series Triplex unit equipped with depth gauge wheels and trailing coil packers. This system worked very well in a min-till operation, however, in direct seeding it would not always give uniform ground penetration.
During the years of using the discers, I had the opportunity to become involved with the East-Central Soil Conservation Project. I had 80 acres of demonstration plots on the farm and was able to try out several pieces of equipment. Here I was able to try out a Bourgault airseeder with and without mounted packers. A Morris Hoe drill was also used as well as a Case-IH 7200 Hoe drill. It soon became apparent that some pieces of equipment worked better than others under the same conditions. The airseeder demonstration showed that excessive packing did not translate into better yields. The Morris Hoe Drill had excellent penetration capabilities. These were single shoot systems and I was starting to wonder about fertilizer toxicity effects on the seedlings.
In 1986, after talking to several researchers and scientists, I purchased a paired row side banding drill. This unit did a very good job of seed placement as well as seed and fertilizer separation. It also did a good job of on row packing. This was more of a research drill for me than a " seed the whole farm" drill. The majority of the seeding was done with the discers.
By the spring of 1990, I was tired of moving discers and packers 4 times during the season. I hooked up an 807 CI chisel plow to an old Leon's S-45 air system. This system made for easy moving from field to field. It also meant that I had no packing system. I obtained a harrow-packer bar to do the packing. This was the best economic option I had at the time.
The next step in making equipment choices came in the early 90's, when the local A.D.D. board was able to get a Conserva Pak and try it out. I used it on 80 acres and was not overly impressed. The following year we were able to get a Flexi-Coil 5000 airdrill. I used it on 140 acres. Again, I was not overly impressed. Every system has its advantages and disadvantages. The Conserva Pak had very good seed and fertilizer placement, as well as good packing. Its short fall was the air delivery system. The Flexi-Coil unit had a good delivery system; however, it fell short on trash clearance and seed and fertilizer placement. My main seeding tool at this time was the old chisel plow and Leon air system.
In 1993, I replaced the chisel plow with an Ezee-On 5500 floating hitch unit. This led to more uniform seed placement. In 1995, the Leon's S-45 was worn out and was replaced with an Ezee-On 3175, ground driven fan, double air shoot system. I was still harrow-packing after seeding. It was also at this time that I was turning the farm into a one-person operation, so it was very crucial for me make seeding a one pass system. What I needed was a double shoot opener and on row packing. In the spring of 1998, a decision was made to use the Morris double shoot, paired row Gumbo boots and the K-Hart mounted packer system. After two seasons of using this system, I am pleased with the system.
There are a lot of choices out there. There is no perfect piece of equipment. They will all work, but it depends on what you expect it to do. The longer I am involved with the direct seeding movement, the more questions I have. The comforting thing is that there are organizations like the SSCA, Man-Dak Zero Till, and ACTS that can give us unbiased answers.