A multi-purpose tool for small farms

Final Report for FNE11-717

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $13,021.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
fred forsburg
Honeyhill Farm
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Project Information

Summary:

Small farms face both labor and capital constraints that limit their ability to compete in markets and simple, flexible and scale sized equipment is not generally available. Simplicity is a component as small operations frequently lack complex equipment and flexibility offers multiple functionality.

 I had developed a prototype of a tractor pulled garlic planting Platform and with this project  proposed to optimize the Platform’s design and performance with the intent that it would support multiple additional functions with minimal modification and further design and engineer it using industry standards taking in account stress analysis, safety and ergonomic issues such that it could be manufactured and sold. 

The Platform increased our planting speed five-fold and decreased our labor costs while also eliminating the negative ergonomic issues with regard to planting garlic. The end product was a great success and we would not consider garlic planting without it! The improvement to the Platform and additional functionality provided through this grant are necessary to our operation. 

Introduction:

Honeyhill Farm, in Western NY, is a highly diversified organic farm with 5 high tunnels, we raise pastured chickens, grassfed beef and a variety of vegetable  including heirloom tomatoes. Our major crop however is garlic. Since developing the Platform we substantially increased garlic production with plans for an additional increase of 50%.

 Upon award of this grant I collaborated with Alfred State College – a NYS College of Technology located in Alfred, NY. Terry Tucker, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Brian Baker, Director of the Sustainability Institute and Matt Lawrence, professor of Mechanical Engineering were advisors.  A mechanical engineering senior was offered the opportunity to adopt the Platform as his Sr. Project.  The student provided all the engineering analysis, mechanical drawings and materials lists necessary to take to a metal shop for assembly. As of this report only Professor Lawrence remain at Alfred.

Problem Statement – Hardneck garlic (Allium Sativum v. ophioscorodon) requires careful placement of cloves for proper growth thus requiring one to stoop and bend and/or (finally) drop and crawl across the soil on one’s knees  to place cloves properly.  In an operation of two acres and a bulb count of ~50,000 this operation was the most onerous on this farm. That reality and that it is difficult to even find local helpers to assist in the effort had stifled our plans to increase production.

Project Objectives:

Overall:

Optimize the design of the prototype Garlic Platform including the modification of the base unit to support multiple agricultural functions with minimal effort at low cost. 

Specific: 

  • Move the wheels off the working area of the Platform
  • Add an adjustable tongue
  • Develop a lighter frame
  • Add a rear toolbar to attach any standard agricultural tool to a standard 2” diamond pattern
  • Allow for working depth adjustment
  • Allow for wheel spacing adjustment
  • Make provisions for an optional  front tool bar
  • Enlarged the base-unit’s working space within the structure to 60” to allow for full access to our 60” beds
  • Develop a mechanism to attach  optional struts and/or other devices e.g. transplanting devices, etc. in the working space for either support or attachments of tools. 
  • Configure the platform to operate behind our potato harvester to convey potatoes directly into containers on the platform with capacity for many rows.
  • Redesign, Engineering analysis, Mechanical drawings and Materials lists to provide to a fabrication shop
  • A short list of additional functions: Side Dresser, Amendment Drop Spreader for full bed coverage, Flame Weeding & Spray, Transplanter, Drip tape dispensing and retrieval
  • Address operator comfort considerations while planting garlic and potatoes

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Brian Baker
  • Matt Lawrence

Research

Materials and methods:
And Assessment

We worked with Alfred State College to fabricate the platform and photos and plans are provided in the Project Information Product section of this project.

We did not develop a drop spreader as we side dress only here. 

The side dresser worked well as we fertilized and planted potatoes simultaneously at speeds much faster than when planting by hand and as traditionally done i.e. carry a bucket of seed potatoes of perhaps 20 pounds and walk and drop by hand.  As the Platform can carry multiple operators and 6 bushels of potato seed we were able to open a furrow, plant, fertilize and cover in one pass very quickly as we did not have to return constantly to reload.

We did not develop the transplanter option to any detail as we found we could work faster with our own manual methods. 

The Platform was vital as a spray and flamer foundation with its ability to support heavy loads and permits the operator to concentrate on the target rather than where they are walking if carrying either tool.  In addition to vegetable crops this is used for fencerow maintenance. With 10,000’ of fencerow to maintain the ability to carry and complete the task in one pass without constant trips to reload is valuable.   The Platform also came in handy as a general purpose trailer in the planting area as it can be adjusted to virtually any crop/bed width and as high as 2 feet. 

The only disappointment came with the potato harvesting capability and this was major as picking up potatoes behind the digger is a most disliked task here. I modified our potato digger to pull the platform and added a chute to convey the tubers to a container on the platform. However the amount of stones conveyed simultaneously with the tubers was problematic. The stones damaged the potatoes in the container and were also dangerous for the operator. If we had less stones or were in muck soils this would have been a significant improvement to operations! 

 In regard to garlic planting, we performed to the below metrics with a tractor driver and 2 operators (planting garlic) by hand – placing cloves directly into the soil running at about 4” above the soil. 

 With the new Platform we improved comfort for the operators and used a more convenient clove holder. Below are measurements in the field for garlic planting:

 Testing attributes: Q=quality attribute, T=time attribute

 Q – Uniformity of the stand: (optimal 6” spacing)

 Q – Accuracy of orientation: (98%)

 T – Speed: (4 inches/second)

 T – Planting performance: (5 minutes/100’ bed of 2 rows) 

 Q / T – Total passes to plant: (1): less compaction and weed growth

 Q / T – Straight and parallel rows: vital for mechanized cultivation

 Q – Consistent depth of cover: vital for winter survival 

 I exchanged the solid deck with an expanded metal sheet rendering the Platform a flexible 4×8’ harvest surface that drains water quickly. This proved to be popular with our harvest crew as the Platform’s adjustable wheels can be set to any width based on bed/row spacing and as it can be adjusted vertically to 24” it can straddle most vegetable crops. Due to its size multiple pickers may load from 3 sides sans personal collisions across multiple rows and harvest a large amount in a single pass. Finally, the opening in the expanded metal sheet permits one to pre-rinse the vegetables leaving the soil outside prior to moving to the wash area. Thus saving multiple handling of product and less soil in wash area.

 

Research results and discussion:
Cost of building platforms

Cost to build Platform

Expect the cost to fabricate a Platform to vary widely based first on the price of steel
and secondarily on labor. Steel prices fluctuate based on the world market and global
demand.

The first platform, the prototype, cost only $700 to build but contained less steel than V2
& V3 and was fabricated by a local part-time welder. The second and third platforms
each cost $1200 and were built by a professional fabrication shop and the price of steel
was then relatively high.!

See page #9 in the Alfred State College Engineering Document provided with the Project Information Products. It provides a material list and steel prices at the time of writing. The estimated cost of steel alone was $638 in 2011.

The price of the top of the platform tool, utilized in planting garlic, called a Garlic Functional Unit is
approximately $20 for a 3/8” sheet of plywood.

Finally the gauge wheels also vary based on steel prices, supplier and capacity.
The gauge wheels for V2 cost $451
The gauge wheels for V3 cost $356 lighter and easier to handle.

The V2 platform has a 2.5” diamond pattern toolbar based on recommendation of a well known supplier of agricultural implements but I found that 2” is actually a better choice for small farm and vegetable operations.

Research conclusions:

I had a single cooperating farmer who uses the Platform and is one of the largest garlic growers in NY.  This cooperator used the platform in 2011 and 2012 and was impressed with the improved speed, ease and general improvements on ergonomics over the prototype.  We  collaborated on a variety of improvements.

The size and weight of the Platform and that it requires a tractor with creeper speed ultimately limited other potential opportunities with other interested parties. 

 

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

 To date the project has garnered a lot of attention: 

NOFA-NY field day 9/2011- 30 attended from 3 states 

Country Folks Grower article 12/2011, a full page with photos, section A, pg. 2

NOFA-NY 2012 Winter Conference 1/2012- Poster Session

NOFA-NY Cultivation Workshop 11/2012 – demo

NYS Vegetable Growers Conference 2/2013 – presentation

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The basic concept was proven and the original problem i.e. garlic planting was substantially solved. I believe the above results speak for themselves sans additional comments. 

I believe there are many other uses for this platform waiting to be discovered.

Future Recommendations

We will continue to use the Platform for all of the above uses described as useful to this operation. Other interested parties, in stone free soil, should try the potato harvester as it would be a great labor saver.

I am prepared to support anyone seeking to build this machine and have already provided plans to several parties.

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.