As an agronomist I get asked a great deal about small grain seeders. And for good reason; a crop’s inherent yield is not decided by the combine, sprayer, or any other operation in its life, but by the machine that puts it in the ground.
So I have dedicated a whole newsletter to my collection of thoughts and experiences over the years with small grain seeders, from crops that I have had to live with and manage that have not always had the best start in life…
Small Grain Seeders Review
Independent tines and high under beam clearance gives good trash movement between the coulters. Having used an old Horsch CO myself this is a very good, simple, sturdy design albeit one that leaves a slightly untidy finish.
Dale Eco Drill
Independent tines, can align to either 12.5cm (5”) or 25cm (10”) with a separate fertiliser side placement. A clever yet simple planter and one that has been significantly improved over the years from what was a slightly ‘light’ build quality. Follows contours well and leaves a scruffy finish in high residue but handles most trash and residue well. Can now be fitted with a front cutting disc which adds real versatility.
Independent tines, more disturbance and a lot of power required. Does a good job especially on heavy soils but less suited to Controlled Traffic Systems because of the restricted widths with such high power requirements. Essentially this is a strip till machine and it seems to find favour with those making the transition to notill.
Like the Mzuri Protill, a strip till machine that offers a very useful and accurate one-pass planting system on soils that need some loosening. There are many small grain seeders on the second hand market in Europe that were purchased then sold by farmers are 2-3 seasons, who wanted to make the transition to full no till.
Build quality is excellent, and I could see this machine working in situations where cattle have been allowed to graze and the soil needs loosening, but where you do not want to cultivate fully to retain moisture – Mau Narok for example.
Our best-known and local Kenyan-made small grain seeder, the Ndume is a solid machine that above all keeps going when others need tinkering or are waiting for exotic spare parts.
I have been surprised at the range of conditions in which it will operate, from cultivated ground to fairly high levels of residue. It will never be as low disturbance as some of the planters from further afield if true zero till is your goal, but the beauty of buying local is that Ndume will customise and design equipment for you with a good knowledge of what the machine will be dealing with.
Claydon Hybrid T
The Claydon Hybrid spawned a new generation of one-pass, quasi no-till planters. The concept is a thin leading tine working 15-20cm deep to loosen the soil, followed by a shallow spreading tip type coulter that places the seed across a 5cm band.
On many soil types it works incredibly well, leaving an undisturbed strip between rows, yet allow straw to pass through the machine better than many other tine machines.
It does however have a tendency to leave a channel that is impossible to consolidate, causing problems with germination and inviting slugs into the crop in some parts of the world. But a good, simple and accurate machine for medium sized operators.
JD 1870 / Conservapak
A solid, extremely common small grain seeder in many parts of the world. I have to say that with these very wide planters I am dubious as to the accuracy with which pneumatic seed delivery distributes the seed across the rows.
But it is an extremely versatile machine, seen here with a spreader tip for seed, behind the leading fertiliser coulter. I do not think that this however is a machine for the highest rainfall, high yield potential sites. Many of the European small grain seeders are used to plant 12 t/ha crops of wheat; there is a reason why these 15” row planters are not.
Seen below on a Vaderstad, the seed placement is brilliant and really cannot be faulted. Like any tine drill, when residue levels are very heavy it will block. Contour following is good, but the under beam clearance is not that high, and unlike a Dale Eco Drill or Sumo DTS for example, there is no option for a front cutting disc. As with all Vaderstad machines, the metering accuracy is first class.
John Deere 750A and 90 series
The original standard single disc planter. There is a good reason why this planter and the opener design has barely changed in 40 years. The tried and trusts 90 series open is very effective but it does require some setting up and monitoring.
That said, I know of several people who operate this planter and interestingly all of them have modified or improved their machines in one way or another – replacing the rear press wheel with a gutler type wheel to improve slot closure, improved air diffusers, right down the detail of fitting larger diameter bolts in the frame linkage to reduce play in the disc and keep it closer to the gauge wheel.
Seed blowing out of the slot with a 750A airdrill was something that I always lamented, and again most operators added an extended finger closer made out of empty spray cans to keep the seed in the furrow.
Arguably an improved design is the Horsch Avatar, with a higher down pressure to slice through residue and reduce hairpinning in straw.
This is acclaimed as the ultimate, most versatile no-till planter that uses a single disc but also a tine and wing either side of the disc to set the seed to the side of the slot. Be in no doubt, it is worth the money in terms of seed placement, design and build quality.
But like any planter it will still hairpin in the heaviest trash conditions, and in stony soils the wear rates are very high. Contour following however is excellent.
The option of placing fertiliser on the opposite side of the disc, away from the seed is very attractive but don’t be fooled by the marketing hype – in my experience with the first Cross Slot in the UK, seed placement is still very close to the centre of the slot so take care when applying high rates of N and Boron in the seedbed.
There is a lot of weight on those closing wheels too, so in damp conditions compaction around the seed can be significant.
A similar concept from Novag in France is now available, although the cost is still a major factor.
From the days of the old Moore Unidrill, very subtle changes in engineering have taken this planter on a long way. Disc angle is a lot shallower, so the ‘shadow’ or slot opened up by the disc is a lot smaller and hence easier to close (apparently due to better bearing technology these days which means the discs are less likely to stall).
Full width front press wheels make a significant improvement in high residue conditions, importantly, the disc and presswheels are on a very clever floating tandem linkage and results in the field are impressive.
An alternative is the Sumo Versadrill which is a similar design with a very good reputation for build quality.
Known for their ruggedness, Baldan planters also bring a surprising attribute; accuracy. Often not mutually associated, there is a lot to be said for gravity hopper metering across the full width rather than pneumatic seed distribution which is prone to variations across the working width.
Residue cutting tends to be the strong point of South American planters, accustomed to double cropping situations where soybeans might be planted within days of harvesting a wheat or maize crop.
There is a large range of planters but the concept is similar, but I have seen planters like the SPDE operating as far afield as France. Just be mindful of contour following on soft and lighter textured soils.
South American firm Stara offers a similar lineup to Baldan. I first came across one of their Ceres double disc seeder in Eastern Europe and the reports that you generally hear are very good. Like Baldan, these seeders are generally less well adapted to drier, lighter soils. As with most disc seeders, this is less about penetration through residue but more about getting into moisture, as well as not bulldozing loose soil around the press wheels.
Angled discs are very much the rage these days, with the promise of improved residue cutting and reduced surface compaction. I have no doubt that the seed slot is easier to close when gravity is on your side to firm the soil down, but when I was asked to attend demonstrations on client’s farms in for the Sumo DD (heavy and more expensive) and the Weaving GD (lighter and less expensive) I was left wanting, particularly when planting larger seeded crops that did not fall into the angled furrow as easily.
The Boss design has been tried and tested in Australia for a number of years and several friends of mine have had demonstration units working on farm with positive results. Whether they really advance our ability to plant into hairpinning residue is still up for debate.
There are of course plenty more brands available, like Equalizer from South Africa who have a reputation for seeders that work very well on stony ground where fast auto reset is important, and the likes of Ausplow and Simplicity from Australia who really know their stuff when it comes to moisture seeking early in the planting season. This is NOT an exhaustive review by any means!!!
Disc vs Tine?
It’s horses for courses. Light, coarse sand (similar to what you would find around Kitale) in the picture below; Great Plains Saxon disc vs Dale Eco Drill. Tiller counts 20% higher on the LEFT surprisingly…. yield was the same both sides.
Center for Excellence for Crop Rotation
Farming for the future requires a change of approach. Monoculture, soil degradation and climate change and soil degradation are threats to the future of how we feed the planet.
Agventure Ltd set up the Center of Excellence for Crop Rotation to help farmers diversify cropping systems and introduce techniques which have a long-term outlook to improve soil health.
The Center of Excellence for Crop Rotation works extensively with Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd (CropNuts).
Till next time,
David Jones is the Broad Acre Specialist at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd. (CROPNUTS). David has a keen interest in soils and no till farming systems where he has undertaken work looking into weed levels and changes in soil structure, and has extensive experience in field trials and in the development of precision farming techniques. In his spare time he enjoys playing rugby.