A multi-purpose tool for small farms

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Vegetables: garlic


  • Crop Production: irrigation, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Pest Management: physical control
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Small farms face both labor and capital constraints that limit their ability to compete in many markets. Equipment that is suitable for small farms needs to be simple, affordable, and flexible. The proposed project offers to build and demonstrate equipment that can save labor for family farms and be affordable to small-scale vegetable operations in the Northeast. The intent is to offer this equipment commercially on a unit cost basis or alternately offer plans that would be fabricated locally from off the shelf components. I have developed the prototype of a tractor pulled “garlic platform” built locally from common materials at an affordable cost. The Platform increased our 2010 planting speed five-fold while decreasing our labor costs by the same factor and eliminated the negative ergonomic issues. The goal for this project is to optimize the design of the prototype Platform based on my experiences this year and design it with the intent that it can perform multiple functions with minimal modification and cost. I am collaborating with Alfred State College (ASC) – a State University of New York College of Technology located in Alfred, NY. I have been visited by Terry Tucker, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Brian Baker, Director of the Sustainability Institute, and Matt Lawrence, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department. All are interested in the project and will act as my advisors. Version 1.0 availability is scheduled for May 2011.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Platform is comprised of two parts:

    Base-Unit; common to all platforms Functional-Unit: Interchangeable, task specific. Functional-units may contain modification hardware (components, appliances, etc.) to reconfigure the base-unit for the task for which they are designed along with other task specific apparatus. Thus a Garlic Platform is a Base-Unit and a Garlic Functional-Unit.

    It is my intent through collaboration with Alfred State College (ASC) and Matt Lawrence, professor of Mechanical Engineering to design and build a new version of the garlic platform for use in 2011. A senior Mechanical Engineering Technology student is assigned to complete the design of the optimized platform and specified functional units.

    I will provide requirements for use and usability along with target costs, delivery and dimensions, etc. ASC will contribute mechanical engineering and design expertise in the fields of mechanics, kinematics, structural elements (load, stress) and materials and component selection. The end result will be mechanical drawings and descriptions for fabrication.

    Phase 1 (2011) ASC will implement documented platform optimizations (below) for the Garlic Platform. Three (V1.0) Garlic Platforms will be fabricated locally for use on the ASC farm, my farm and the local test farms. The intent is to gain additional experience and provide further refinement of the system.

    Phase 2 of this program will run concurrently with phase 1 through 2012 or the life of the project. The concentration here will be to study the V1.0 base-unit and incorporate maximum flexibility into the multi-function base-unit that can support even greater interchange of functional-units. The design will facilitate inexpensive and easy reconfiguration of the platform for multiple other tasks specifically designed for widely differing crops and applications in a small farm setting. The modular functional units will be designed to be removed and installed expeditiously onto the base unit using readily available common tools. The units are adjustable for various row-spacings, differing crops, dissimilar functions and operation at speeds appropriate for the specific function. The units will be engineered for safety to avoid injuries by exposure to moving parts. The result will be the delivery of a V2.0 base-unit design with full mechanical drawings and descriptions for fabrication.

    A number of additional functional-units have been identified. Some of these (ordered list) will be engineered for 2012 delivery. A short list includes: side dresser, amendment drop spreader for full bed coverage, flame weeding & spray, transplanter, drip tape dispensing and retrieval, row cover dispensing and retrieval, bed cover dispensing and retrieval.

    Problem Statement: Organic garlic operations frequently utilize flame weeders or spray vinegar specifically as part of an in-row weed regimen. This is often accomplished with back pack type devices where the operator is carrying a heavy and sometimes awkward load and risks trip/fall accidents as their attention is on the target not the soil.

    Solution: The flame weeding & spray platform would permit an operator to cover much more ground in a given interval and permit the operator to handle a much larger volume than can be carried on the back. The results are substantially improved ergonomics through the elimination of handling heavy loads and trip & fall injuries thus reduced labor risks and costs. Additional improvements to effectiveness of the operation will be realized due to the precision and uniformity gained by attaching spray type devices to a fixed platform at predictable speeds. This is contrasted to the operator walking on uneven surfaces with a hand held device. The platform would allow for loads much heavier than can be carried by an operator thus less wasted effort and time in reloading or filling.

    Documented improvements to Garlic Platform required for V1.0:

    -Wheels requiring space on the functional-unit (base unit modification); Move wheels off the functional-unit permitting greater flexibility in operator positioning when placing cloves, larger payload capacity and improved safety.
    -Clove holder lessens performance; A dispensing mechanism for cloves would improve speed, lessen frustration and reduce misplacement.
    -Unseen soil obstructions cause operator frustration and uneven stand; Elongate soil opening in platform to perceive any obstructions earlier i.e. stones, clods.
    -Sharp edges on soil opening; Pad the edges of the soil opening.
    -Operator comfort padding insecure; Secure comfort padding to the platform.
    -Planting required secondary pass (base unit modification); Add furrow closure mechanism.
    -Operator fatigue (base unit modification); Allow for height adjustment above soil via wheel adjustment mechanism.
    -Operator discomfort; Allow for convenient operator (re-)positioning thru ergonomic measures.
    -Short operating window impedes performance; Elongate soil opening in platform.
    -Reduced flexibility (base unit modification); eliminating the center support will allow for greater flexibility in design.

    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.