Cover crop seeder turning heads in Williams County

By Matt Reese

Allen Dean’s wife Shelly has been talking about building a new house for years. But, unfortunately, the house will have to wait a bit longer.

The dream house project has been temporarily shelved due to a new cover crop seeder designed to facilitate the booming interest on the farm and in the area. Even though it had a dream house sized price tag, Allen decided he could not go another autumn without fulfilling another dream — a more viable way to seed cover crops on his William County farm.

“We had done a lot of work seeding with helicopters and airplanes, but we decided we could do a lot better job with a ground applicator. We had researched three different grant proposals and none of those worked out. So, in May we just decided to get this applicator built and we just went ahead and did it on our own,” Allen said. “We purchased a new Miller Nitro and basically made it into a 90-foot air seeder that has allowed us to do the cover crop seeding. We ordered the machine in May, it came in July and we started building it the first week in August. We had it in the field the third week of August.”

In August, Allen and his brother, Tony, put in serious farm shop hours to transform the self-propelled sprayer into a cover crop seeder. And, once it hit the fields of Williams County, the seeder got some serious attention. The goal is to get a thin stand of cover crops uniformly across the field.

“Some people want their cover crops to look like a nice thick stand of wheat, but that is not really what we’re after. We did a lot of custom work here in northwest Ohio. Including our own 1,900 acres, we covered 5,000 acres with it and had requests for 10,000 acres, but we just ran out of time,” Allen said. “It was the first time for this area to see a machine like this a lot of people wondered what we were doing in the fields.”

The seed is loaded into the tank on top of the machine with a knuckle boom crane truck. The seed comes down through a plenum to seed rollers that are run by hydraulics. The seed is forced by air into two seed meters and to diverters that split the seed into two tubes that are each split again and sent to diffusers for each individual row on the booms.

“We have four towers on the boom and then as it runs down the tubes, it goes to the soybean diffuser,” Tony said. “We also have the ability to plant into standing corn with a diffuser that is a lot longer and it goes right down to the ground. We can average seeding between 350 and 500 acres a day.”

The Dean brothers can closely monitor the seed amounts.

“The whole system is actually on floating scales. We know exactly how many pounds are in the tank at all times. When we start a field we put a ticket in and punch it. It gives us a starting time and how many pounds are in the tank. And when we are done it gives us an ending time and how many pounds are applied on the field,” Tony said. “Along with that, we have the Miller system that runs the four wheels and the boom. We can go from two-wheel to four-wheel steering as well.”

Initially, there was some uneven seed application that needed to be addressed.

“Now to calibrate, we install tubes on the seed diffusers. We can turn on the machine and we can weigh all the way across what the seed is in the tubes and we can see if we are light or heavy in certain areas to prevent streaking in the fields,” Tony said. “We had to tweak things to get an even flow across the field.”

After some trial and error, the cover crop seeder is running smoothly. For cover crop blends, the seed is divided into two groups based on large and small seed size. It is mixed according to per square yard seeding rates.

So far, the brothers are pleased and excited about the success of the seeder this year. And, while it is not a new house, the Dean family is really building something special with cover crops in Williams County.

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