Dynamic Attachment Frame System

Final Report for FNE11-732

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Eric Vander Hyde
Barefoot Gardens
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

This project started out with the desire to make a scale appropriate 3-point attachment tool system that would allow new and beginning farmers, farmers who have a hard time with heavy pieces of equipment, and any small to mid-sized farming operations to be more efficient and flexible to accomplish the required daily tasks of running a diverse farming operation.

We began this project by taking the concept and created drawings so the attachment system could be manufactured. The Main Frame, connectors, and several attachments were built and delivered. We then began testing, troubleshooting, modifying, and re-creating several of the connectors and attachments. During the first few days of use we immediately observed that we were more efficient and subsequently more likely to do many of the necessary tasks required on our small farm with the assistance of the attachment system. We could easily switch between seeders, cultivators, hillers, etc. and were not overwhelmed by having to switch between many large, heavy, and awkward single use implements. With the efficiency and ease of use, we were able to stay on schedule with our crop plan throughout most of the year while having an increase in harvestable product and sales.

Introduction:

Farm Profile

Barefoot Gardens started in 2008 on leased land with approximately 20 acres of useable fields of which we have 4-1/2 acres fenced in for fruit, flower, vegetable, and herb production. The land was previously used as a Sod Farm and we knew it would take several years to build up the soil fertility. When we were starting the farm, both my wife Linda and I were working “off farm” jobs as well as beginning the transition from backyard gardeners to small scale farmers. We knew it would take several years to build up our skills as well as the farms infrastructure.
• 2008 (Year 1) We built a small greenhouse, chicken coop, utility shed, fenced in the crop area, dug a well, ran electricity to the site, and grew vegetables, flowers and herbs for a 12 member CSA.
• 2009 (Year 2) We grew the CSA Membership to 20 families when we obtained a 32 HP tractor with a loader bucket, rotary tiller and also purchased a bed shaper and water wheel transplanter.
• 2010 (Year 3) We took down our initial greenhouse (20x36) which was located in the middle of our fields and built a bigger propagation greenhouse (20x96) outside of the fenced in area as well as expanded our CSA to 25 families.
• 2011 (Year 4) we began to grow some crops outside of our fenced in area, we also built another shed (20x16) and added two moveable high tunnels (20x48) as we expanded our CSA to 30 families, added 6 restaurant accounts and a local wholesaler. We were still working “off farm” jobs and added a part time worker to help with the increased production.
• 2012 (Year 5) I quit my “off farm” job and began working full time at the farm and the part time worker was also added full time. An official “Wash/Pack” shed was constructed to facilitate better post harvest handling. The CSA membership was increased to almost 50 families, a Saturday Farmers Market was added, an increased number of restaurant accounts were served, all this while increasing sales to a local wholesale distributor.

Participants

This project was a great collaboration of many participants:
• Scott Guiser – Penn State Extension, Bucks County. Scott enthusiastically supported this project from the inception as our technical advisor. With the increased awareness of “local” production and the growing number of small scale farmers, Scott encouraged this prototype creation as something that could prove to be a useful addition to anyone starting out, or expanding, in small scale production.
• Eric Bader – Professional Engineer. Eric transformed the chicken scratches and sketches of various connectors and pieces into useable drawings. Many hours at night and over the weekends were spent in his office trying to fit every crazy idea into a practical application.
• Tom Vander Hyde and Rite-Way Plumbing and Heating, Inc. – Fabrication Shop. Tom along with Bob Rolston (Rite-Way Fab Shop Foreman) and the fab shop crew worked their magic to cut, bend, drill, tap, and weld each component into the final assembly pieces. Many designs were improved upon in the fab shop to make fabrication more robust and/or simplified.
• Austin Leleu and Andrew Phillips – NuTruth Productions. Austin and Andrew came over for coffee late one night and got talked into making the video for this project. Without knowing anything about farming, but knowing that they liked kale, their energy and dedication to this project was unmatched. With all of the camera and sound equipment, transcribing, story line and video editing, their production talents coupled with their enthusiasm were a blessing for us on this project.
• Rebecca Robertson, Charlie White, Tianna DuPont and PASA – Workshop Facilitators. There were two educational “Field Days” where we demonstrated the Frame System and Rebecca, Charlie and Tianna were all instrumental in making those days an outreach and educational success.
• NE SARE – Grant Funding. SARE's mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education.
• Linda Shanahan – Farm Partner and Life Companion. Linda has been alongside me from the start. Working together on the farm we quickly recognized that most traditional implements that we looked at were large, awkward, heavy, and expensive and for us to be successful any tractor attachment had to be scale appropriate for her to change or adjust when I was not available. Her patience and dedication is immeasurably appreciated!

Project Objectives:

The attachment system idea came about to solve several problems since the diversity of crops grown on a CSA/Market Farm require that multiple farm tasks demand daily attention. The Dynamic Attachment Frame System is an idea that springs from constantly removing a single task implement then connecting a different implement and adjusting each implement every time it is connected.

With one Main Frame and several "drop in" attachments, the adjustments are required just once for each individual attachment. When switching between tasks like hilling to seeding to cultivating, only minutes are required to remove an attachment and drop in the next attachment.

Productivity throughout all stages of a crop cycle is increased as the efficiency of this system enables the farmer to complete multiple tasks on-time and when weather allows. Crop size, quality and diversity should increase as more crops can be planted and subsequently harvested each week with less time and sales could increase as farmer efficiency improves. This setup enables the tractor, attachments, and farmer to act as an efficient System.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Eric Bader
  • Scott Guiser
  • Tom Vander Hyde

Research

Materials and methods:

The Project (Dynamic Attachment Frame System) is a new tool prototype combining tried and true agricultural implements and a few new implements with a unique and innovative way for connecting, switching, and utilizing these scale appropriate tools.

Initially we sketched out ideas and used them to create working drawings. The drawings were sent in for review and fabrication. Steel and equipment was ordered and fabrication was completed. The Main Frame and many of the attachments were delivered and testing began. Several of the original implements were either redesigned or replaced with more appropriate implements as our farming activities drove the necessary components we were looking to build and test. Many of the implements and connectors required field modifications either due to lack of understanding, modified use, or requirement of additional adjustments.

Materials for the main frame:

3" by 3" by 1/4" tube steel for the front piece
2" by 2" by 1/4" tube steel for the side and cross pieces
2" by 2" by 1/2" angle for the cross bar connections
2" by 2" by 1/4" square tube for gauge wheel and connectors

The document "Frame System Overview", uploaded below, gives the material specs for all the attachments.

Below are the system components that were planned and built:
• The Main Frame is the main component which connects to the tractor 3-point hitch and all attachments are then “dropped into place” in the main frame. (Refer to attachment [Main Frame])(Estimated cost $1750)
• The Height Wheels are installed on the front of the frame and are set so the frame drops to the same height each time. (Refer to attachment [Main Frame])(Estimated cost $150)
• The One/Two/Three Row Seeders utilize Earthway 1001-B Precision Seeders which are very common on small farms. These will individually attach to the System Bar. (Refer to attachment [Seeders]) (Estimated cost $1450 for a gang of three)
• The One/Two/Three Row Cultivator was manufactured with heavy duty steel and spring steel. The tines scratch through the surface of the soil to dislodge small weeds after seeding or transplanting. (Refer to attachment [Cultivator])(Estimated cost $600 for a gang of three)
• The Springtine/Landscape Rake utilizes heavy duty springtines which can be used to assist in bed preparation to break up large clods of soil or to remove unwanted field debris prior to seeding. (Refer to attachment [Landscape Rake])(Estimated cost $550)
• The Disc Hiller uses heat treated disc blades with heavy duty bearings and can be adjusted in height and rotational angle. The Disc Hiller is used to hill crops like potatoes or leeks. (Refer to attachment [Disc Hiller])(Estimated cost $600)
• The Furrower is a large heavy duty steel shank with multiple holes for depth adjustment. A standard furrower shoe is mounted to the bottom. (Refer to attachment [Furrower])(Estimated cost $400)
• The Root Digger has two heavy duty steel drop arms with a solid Stainless Steel cross member welded on an angle. This is used to drop below root crops like potatoes or garlic and gently lift the roots up above the soil level for easy harvesting. This attachment required repeated modifications before it functioned as planned. (Refer to attachment [Root Digger])(Estimated cost $550)
• The Platform is used on harvest days to transport full (heavy) bins back to the wash/pack shed. Additionally the platform was used as a mobile work bench out in the field for transportation of tools and supplies for work associated with irrigation, etc. (Refer to attachment [Platform])(Estimated cost $1250)
• The Broadcast Spreader utilized an Earthway M21 12VDC Broadcast Spreader. This initially was planned to mount on a System Bar, but we mounted it to a wood plank which was then mounted to the platform so we could load bags of lime or seed onto the platform and constantly fill the hopper while driving.(Estimated cost $450)

Below are the system components that were not initially planned and were subsequently built:

These components seemed more appropriate to our operation and were built to facilitate a more efficient use of the Frame System as well as better soil preparation, cultivation and to improve overall farm work flow.

• Support Feet are used on the main frame to keep the back end supported while not in use or attached to the tractor. (Refer to attachment [Main Frame])(Estimated cost $100)
• The Subsoiler is a large heavy duty steel shank with multiple holes for depth adjustment. A standard subsoiler shoe is mounted to the bottom. (Refer to attachment [Sub Soiler]) (Estimated cost $400)
• Finish Rake utilize light duty springtines which can lightly break soil crust prior to seeding if the bed has set for a while after initial bed preparation. (Refer to attachment [Finish Rake])(Estimated cost $300)
• Spider Cultivator incorporates premanufactured spider cultivators for heavy duty cultivation, typically within the tractor wheel rows.(Estimated cost $550)
• S-Tine Sweep Cultivators uses premanufactured S-Tines and interchangeable sweep cultivators for mid to heavy duty cultivation. These are a very common sweep type of cultivator. (Refer to attachment [S Tine Cultivator])(Estimated cost $400)
• Tomato Stake Puller utilizes a simple lever and clamp to pull tomato stakes at the end of the season. The puller pulls the stakes straight up to minimize breaking the states. (Refer to attachment [Tomato Stake Puller])(Estimated cost $400)
• Tow Hook System has several different towing and pulling options to allow for connecting to many different trailers, spreaders, carts or wagons. (Refer to attachment [Tow Hook])(Estimated cost $225)

Below is the system components that were initially planned but were not built:

These components were deemed not immediately necessary to our operation and were removed from our plan. Possibly they will be constructed at a future date.

• Roller Cultipacker with our scale of operation we do not do enough large acreage seeding to require a cultipacker.
• Roller Crimper with our scale of operation we do not do enough large acreage cover cropping to require a Roller Crimper.
• Flame Weeder we determined that the risks and liability of constructing a flame weeder would be too much to take on at this time.

Research results and discussion:
Results

The Dynamic Attachment Frame System is a system which has almost endless possibilities of implements to be connected. Throughout the past year while working on this project, we were challenged to make many mid-stream adjustments both during fabrication and implementation. To begin with, the Main Frame worked better than planned! It was amazing and we were really excited every day while using the frame and implements. However, the only thing with the main frame that needed modification was that the angle connector tabs were too lightweight and bent under pressure. These will be made out of thicker steel next time. Most of our Square to Round Connectors initially were “slipping” off of the cross bars as the tightener bolt came in contact with the cross bar at a poor angle. This was corrected after making new connector pieces. The seeders were challenging to use as the connector and riser were fabricated with tolerances that were too large, hence there was too much swing in the seeders and the rows were not planted as accurately as we were hoping. This tolerance problem was the main driver for creating our new connectors and also upgrading to a new “Spring Arm” connector to give more flexibility.

Aside from the technical adjustments that were made, either in the shop when the components were fabricated or in the field during testing, the following observations were made:

Fabrication - The initial fabrication took longer than expected and was more costly than estimated. Many of the connectors were unusable due to a clamping failure which was resolved with a revised connector piece. Many of the components with round pipe surfaces were not accurately drilled due to the curvature of the pipe or shaft. The Root Digger was initially fabricated with the bevel on the cutting edge down which actually created a “lift” on the digger. This was resolved by cutting a new bevel on the cutting edge with the bevel up which created the desired “down” pull to stay below the roots to be harvested. The connector piece for the root digger was not robust enough and bent after several uses. The redesigned connector piece was fabricated out of thicker steel which could withstand the pressures exerted from the implement being pulled through the soil.

Field Testing – From a biased perspective – this tool rocks! From day 1 of unloading the main frame and the initial set of implements, to setting the unit up with the disc hillers and hilling our potatoes, we were amazed! Many of the tasks that took hours to do by hand were accomplished in a few minutes. There were some modifications and adjustments with each implement, which could lead to frustrations in the moment, but many of our frustrations were resolved with the redesigned components. The seeders were a little sloppy, but still was a great improvement over seeding by hand or using a push by hand seeder. The cultivators were not as flexible as initially hoped, but were functional and actually had unexpected benefits as they could get below the canopy of many of the larger established plants. The root digger worked well after correcting the beveled edge and after the stronger connectors were fabricated. The root digger was used on our garlic harvest and worked better in areas with less weed pressure as many of the larger established weeds caused the leading edge and riser posts to accumulate weeds and not allow the soil and crop to pass through the bed lifter. This was resolved with using the disc hillers mounted in front of the root digger which slice through the weeds on those leading edges. Most of the other implements worked great and would only need slight modifications or adjustments depending on how they are to be used.

The last observation which greatly affected the precision of the Frame and all of the implements was not with the Frame itself, but with our tractor. There was too much movement in the sway bars of the 3-point hitch which caused a lot of side to side drifting, especially in seeding and cultivation. We plan to replace the sway arms which will hopefully alleviate any side drift.

The estimated cost of each component mentioned above in the Methods Section is further broken down into estimated labor and materials with detailed pictures showing the components here.

Economics

This 3-point tool system directly impacted the financial sustainability, productivity, and potential growth of our small farm. When we started out farming, we had limited equipment, limited skills, limited time and tons of enthusiasm coupled with the overwhelming support of our community. After 5 years of farming most of our infrastructure is now in place, the soil fertility has improved, and we now have tools and equipment to make many tasks physically easier to accomplish. However, the main thing that still affects us daily is time as there is always much more to do than we have time to do it in.

Scale appropriate technology and farm economics is a big factor with this frame system. This frame system is designed for the growing population of female farmers and farmers who don't like dealing with heavy pieces of equipment, new and beginning farmers, as well as any small to midsized operations. There are many hand tools, tillers & weeders marketed for the home/backyard gardener, which we have used and still use, and have their place on our farm. There are also many large and expensive tractors and implements designed for Big Agriculture. This Frame System idea was to build scale appropriate equipment that was fast, fluid, modifiable, economical, and easy to use.

Efficiency has been greatly improved as more tasks can be completed each day since the time it takes to switch between implements is minimal. The efficiency of switching between implements allowed us to cultivate 5 beds of vegetables with the cultivator attachments then we could remove those implement bars and drop on the disc hiller bar and hill 20 beds of potatoes probably in less time than it would typically have taken us to hand cultivate just one bed of veggies.

Or in a more fair comparison, we never had to remove our 3-point attachment as we only had to switch between implement bars. So, to remove our cultivator bar and connect up a seeder bar takes approximately 2 minutes whereas to remove a single use 3-point cultivator attachment and then connect to a single use seeder attachment would take approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Traditionally switching between 3-point farm equipment is tedious, challenging, sometimes dangerous, and often has to be done several times a day depending on the season and immediate field/crop needs. 15 to 20 minutes to switch between equipment doesn’t seem like it is too much until it is the 5th time in a day you have to do it…

The duration of tasks like weeding was greatly reduced as the initial seeding was more accurate and we could use mechanical cultivation in lieu of hand cultivation. The time to mechanically cultivate a 100’ bed of beets was approximately 1 minute and could be completed 3 times over the course of 4 weeks as the plants were getting established. Many of the “in-row” weeds were covered up during cultivation. After the plants reached mature heights and the weed pressure was minimal, we did hand cultivate one last time to remove any remaining weeds. Before using this tool system to mechanically cultivate, we were lucky to hand cultivate more than once throughout the whole life cycle and the beds typically were overrun by the weeds, decreasing productivity of our fields and increasing unnecessary stress.

The efficiency of harvesting crops was improved, was more enjoyable as weed pressure was minimized, and workers did not have to fight the weeds while harvesting and processing.

In a last analysis of some of the economics in play, this year our farm went from serving a 30 member CSA, 5 restaurants, and a wholesale account to growing our CSA to 48 families, 7 restaurants, 1 caterer, 1 Saturday Farmers Market, and a wholesale account. The farm gross sales almost doubled from 2011 to 2012 and can be partially attributed to using this tool system and being more productive within the same amount of time. Obviously there were other factors involved with the growth of our farm, but using this frame system was definitely a contributing factor.

Conditions

The efficiency and output of our farm have dramatically increased. Our impact within our community has grown. We are more confident with understanding the natural and daily rhythms. Many of the farm specific conditions that we have struggled with during our first several years of farming have slowly been improving. We have built the farms infrastructure including: equipment, storage and wash/pack sheds, greenhouses, deer fencing, a well and irrigation piping, and purchased needed tools and equipment. We also added several hundred yards of compost and have been slowly working with cover crops and crop rotations as we are attempting to work in accordance with organic standards. The fifth year was a transition to full time farming along with adding another full time worker. In spite of significantly increased revenue we still have not achieved “financial sustainability” as we have fallen short of covering our farm expenses this year. We know that for our farm to be considered “sustainable”, no matter what our preferred growing practices are, we need to be more efficient if we are to obtain that last remaining target that is economic sustainability.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The outreach and educational component have included:
1. 8/22/2011 ~ PASA and The Seed Farm's field day, Hands-on Specialized Equipment for Vegetable Production. Presentation of SARE funded Dynamic Attachment Frame System to approximately 50 attendees. (Refer to attachment [PASA Field Day 1])
2. 10/17/2011 ~ PASA Field Day - Innovative Farmers: Finding Creative Solutions to Common Problems. Presentation of SARE funded Dynamic Attachment Frame System to approximately 35 attendees. (Refer to attachments [PASA Field Day 2, 3 and 4])
3. Website Page ~ our farms website has information including a video regarding the frame system. Visit www.barefootgardens.net for more information.
4. YouTube ~ a video of our frame system is posted on YouTube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xme0MY9gQ5w

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Adoption

As we are winding up this growing season (2012), we are assessing our farm situation and find that we are asking ourselves “Now where do we go?” Do we increase CSA Membership? Do we add another farmers market? Do we grow more for wholesale? Do we reduce the number of restaurant accounts? We will be analyzing our records and hope to modify our future plan according to our capacity and needs which will hopefully be balanced with our community’s desire for wholesome produce and herbs grown locally.

Throughout the next year we plan to use the Dynamic Attachment Frame System as much as possible. We found that it is easier to accomplish tasks when they are done on time. Over the first four years of farming we found ourselves always two to four weeks behind where we thought we should be. This past year, we were on plan until mid-July and then fell behind in our fall plantings. At that point it was very difficult to catch up. We had the Frame System sitting with our other equipment while we were waiting on some updated connector pieces and other components to complete our design ideas. When these arrived, we again attached the frame system and couldn’t help but smile as daily tasks once again were pleasant to work on. We did get caught up on cultivation of newly transplanted crops and finally got ahead on some ground work before winter set in.

We have found that using equipment is a double edged sword. We have become dependent on using equipment to accomplish more tasks in less time. However, when the tractor breaks down or an implement is not operating properly, we fall behind. We are now growing at a scale that demands a higher level of attention to details and we cannot let small things get out of control as there is more riding on the outcome. With these pressures, again, we understand that we need to be efficient with everything we do.

We have learned through farming and also through use and testing of this newly designed and continually modified piece of equipment, that flexibility is ultimately one of the most important requirements in us as farmers and in our adopted tools. With a future full of uncertainty with regard to economic conditions, resource availability, and weather patterns it is with flexibility that small farms like ours will thrive.

Assessment

Once the Main Frame and implements arrived, we began to use them and we were amazed at how much we could get accomplished in a short amount of time. One day in early summer, we had the ground tilled, beds made, and we began to direct seed crops with the Frame System and the Seeder Attachment. After we had everything direct seeded that was in our plan, we unhooked the Frame System and connected our waterwheel transplanter. Everything went well that afternoon and within the course of a few hours we had a few thousand transplants in the ground, an empty greenhouse, an empty transplanter, and we were ready to do something else. We unhooked the transplanter and reconnected the Frame System with the Root Digger Attachment and began to harvest some new potatoes for an upcoming CSA distribution. The thought at that time was “Can we make everything we need as an attachment to fit onto this frame system?” and “I would really like to make it through a growing season without having to remove the frame system!”

Many ideas have come out of the original concept. An initial short list of about 12 different implements has grown into a longer list of almost 25 different simple components as well as another 15 power driven components that could be connected to this system. Also, many existing implements found at auctions, other farms, or used equipment dealers can be attached to this frame system with a standard connector or a custom connector could be fabricated.

Without a doubt, the Frame System has helped us become more efficient and has allowed us a glimpse into the possibilities of truly becoming sustainable. That being said, we believe that the next step would be to manufacture several new frame systems and work with a few other farmers to see if they observe the same results in field plan execution, flexibility, increased efficiency, higher level of productivity due to improved weed management, and improved economic viability while working at a scale appropriate size for their individual farm operation.

Information Products

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.