A Single-Row Mechanical Nut Planter for Nut and Hardwood Plantations

Progress report for FNC20-1205

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $8,892.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Green Hills LLC
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Zachary Alexander
Green Hills LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

We have a 600 acre farm in south-western WI. Approximately 350 acres of the farm has been planted into a hardwood tree plantation of varying maturity. These plantations were planted as part of the Conservation Reserve Program and are intended to move the most vulnerable fields away from conventional farming practices to reduce soil degradation and improve local water quality. The remainder of the farm is planted into conventional row crops by local dairy farmers. We have been working with our tenant farmers to implement no-till and cover-crop practices on our fields.

Summary:

The establishment of tree plantations has proven to be an effective method of reclaiming marginal agricultural land and restoring impacted areas to environmental and economic productivity. Hardwood and nut tree plantations can provide producers with a long-term, stable investment and integrate well into agroforestry and silvopasture systems. Additionally, the social and environmental benefits of tree plantations include: increased plant diversity, improved habitat for wildlife, benefits to soil health, water quality improvements, carbon capture and potential opportunities for recreation and agritourism. 

Designing and building a tractor-pulled, single-row nut planter will allow producers to plant nut and hardwood plantations from seed. The market currently lacks an affordable and accessible product to do so. Current practice is to plant tree plantations from nursery-grown seedlings, but the labor and capital costs are high. The benefit of growing plantations from seed is two-fold: 1.) the cost and labor involved in planting seed is lower than planting nursery-grown seedlings and 2.) seeds can be collected and planted from locally adapted stock. We hope that by reducing the labor and expense of planting hardwood and nut plantations, we can lower the barrier to entry for producers who wish to establish tree plantations on marginal or otherwise unproductive land.

Project Objectives:

Our objectives are: 

  1. To design and build a single-row, tractor-driven planter that can handle a variety of hardwood nut species and sizes.
  2. To evaluate the performance of the equipment in the field 
  3. To evaluate the cost savings of establishing a plantation via direct-seeding versus planting seedlings. 
  4. Share the design and demonstrate the use of the planter to interested parties, namely local farming field days, Walnut Council meetings, and Wisconsin Woodland Owners meetings. 
  5. Long Term: Evaluate tree survivability and stand density of plantations established via seed vs. seedlings.

Research

Materials and methods:

Design Phase:

Although to our knowledge there are no commercially available hardwood nut planters, we are aware of a few custom made planters owned by county agencies and individuals in Wisconsin. We will speak with the owners and evaluate the existing designs to inform our own choices. As much as possible, we will utilize off-the-shelf components and parts from existing equipment. The planter will need to meet the following requirements:

  1. Be capable of handling a variety of seed sizes from different hardwood species.
  2. Be capable of planting into agricultural residue or pasture (no-till) as well as into tilled fields.
  3. Have an adjustable seeding rate to vary planting density. 
  4. Have an adjustable planting depth.

Building of Planter:

The planter will be built in the Summer of 2020 according to the plans produced during the design phase. We will run small-scale tests, evaluate performance, and update the design as necessary.

Update: The planter will now be built in the Winter of 2021.

Test Planting: 

We will run a larger-scale test of the planter in Fall 2020. Hardwood seeds will be collected, cleaned and inspected in the months before hand. We will plant alternating rows of Walnut and Oak at 1 bushel/acre for acorns and 2 bushel/acre for walnuts. We will plant 1/2 acre in Walnut/Oak via seed and 1/2 acre in Walnut/Oak via seedlings in order to compare the cost, labor and survivability of the two methods. We will also run a test planting of Hickory and Cherry if those seeds are available. 

Update: The planter will be field tested in Spring 2021. The Walnut and Oak seedling will be planted in Spring 2021. The hardwood seeds will be collected and planted in Fall 2021. After speaking with foresters at the Wisconsin DNR nursery, they did not think that seed collected and stored Fall 2020 would be viable in Spring 2021 (walnut dries out too much if not in the ground).

Evaluation:

We will evaluate the test plots in the Spring of 2021 for seed germination and the survivability of the seedlings. We will again evaluate the plots in Fall 2021 for survivability of both plots and resulting tree density. We will evaluate the cost, labor and survivability of the two methods.

Update: We will evaluate the test plots in Spring 2022 for seed germination and the survival of the hardwood seedlings. We will evaluate the cost, labor and survival of the two methods. The plots will only be evaluated once as the contract ends in July 2022.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We have not yet done any outreach for this project. We plan to demonstrate the nut planter at some local Wisconsin Woodland Owners and Wisconsin Walnut Council events. These events may be in person or online depending on the status of Covid-19. We plan this outreach for Fall 2021.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.