A multi-purpose tool for small farms

2011 Annual 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

A multi-purpose tool for small farms


1 -Goals Restated

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. First year savings in labor paid for the prototype.

The goal for this project is to optimize the design of the prototype Platform based on my experiences in 2010 and design it with the intent that it can perform multiple functions with minimal modification and cost.

2 – Farm Information

Honeyhill Farm is certified organic family farm in Western NY. We are highly
diversified in that we raise pastured chickens, grassfed beef and a variety of vegetable crops including heirloom tomatoes in high tunnels. Our single major crop however is garlic.

2010 saw substantial infrastructure improvements including s 40×64 vegetable drying and processing facility primarily used for garlic processing: drying, cleaning, grading, storing and shipping of high quality hardneck garlic mostly as seed to growers nationally. Our goals are to increase garlic production by 50% in 2012.

We also sell through several quality farmers markets, high end restaurants and a multi-farm CSA. The farm consists of 50 acres of which 22 are permanent pasture, 8 acres are tilled for vegetables and 5 high tunnels for both in-season and season extension uses.

3 – Cooperators

I originally documented 3 cooperators for the grant request but by garlic planting time we could only accommodate one as the weather conditions in Western NY were so variable in mid/late October that only one was willing to wait to plant with the platform else risk not getting their garlic planted in time before the snow.

The cooperator that did use the platform, a large garlic operation, planted with it and was impressed with the speed, ease and improvements on ergonomics. We are additionally collaborating on a variety of improvements and are actively working toward those goals this summer (2012).

They currently have a platform on loan and will receive a new version later this spring (2012) to test in a variety of other applications.

A creeper speed is required for the use of the platform when planting garlic thus limiting potential opportunities for other interested parties.

4 – Activities to date

The first major activity completed was working with the Alfred State College Mechanical Engineering Department to design the v1.0 Platform. Multiple iterations of the design was subjected to stress analysis and other engineering disciplines until a final design was selected and then documented with a complete set of engineering drawings.

The second major activity was finding, selecting and learning how to work with a professional fabrication shop. Manufacturing often conflicts with engineering in delivery of a final product. In this case we found it necessary to trim some weight and built the platform with less steel for greater ease of use and lowered cost. The final result was the v1.0 Platform.

I convened a field day, supported by NOFA-NY, on September 28 with over 30 attendees, some from many hours distant. This proved successful for many attendees and offered me additional ideas as to use and operation. The field day was documented by a full page article in December 2011 Country Folks Grower section A page 2.

I presented a Poster Session on the v1.0 Platform at the NOFA-NY Research Symposium in Saratoga Springs at their annual conference. The poster was available for review and I manned it for 3 days throughout both the symposium and the conference. It proved to be a significant area of interest for many people and I handed out 50 printed fliers describing the project and fielded at least a dozen followup telephone call subsequent to the conference.

5 – Results and Accomplishments
The Platform was used to plant 2 acres of potatoes in June 2011 and was quick and painless requiring only a single pass. With a capacity of 12 bushels without reloading the time and labor savings were significant. Garlic was planted at similar savings in time as the prototype but also offered single pass operations due to the addition of a tool bar and hiller discs on the v1.0 platform.

As compared to the prototype, we enjoyed greater flexibility of wheel placement, height adjustment and improved capacity of the platform with the wheels now off-board the deck.

Our potato harvester was modified by the addition of a chute and draw bar so that it could pull the Platform and convey potatoes directly from the digger to a container on the Platform. This eliminates the secondary step of manually collecting potatoes off the soil after having run thru the digger. Unfortunately this operation proved unsuccessful due to the number of stones also conveyed with the tubers. Had there been less stones this would have alleviated this most time consuming and unpleasant task.

As the deck is as easily replaceable I exchanged the solid plywood deck with an expanded metal sheet rendering the Platform a flexible harvest surface where we can pick onto and pre-rinse the vegetables prior to moving to the wash area in a single pass.

The Platform came in handy as a spray and flamer foundation with its ability to support heavy loads and remain on target with little effort. The Platform also came in handy as a general purpose trailer that can be adjusted to virtually any crop/bed width and as high as 3 feet.

6 – Future activities

I will contract for construction the v1.1 Platform, spring 2012 , that will be lighter and more flexible especially in the attachment to the tractor, a smaller and standard toolbar, lighter weight gauge wheel, greater adaptability for adding known and future components. I will add an option for a front toolbar, extension rear rear toolbar, seats and foot rests and a variety of other both significant & minor improvements.

A variety of custom attachments to the Platform are planned for 2012 including the ability to dispense and collect both plastic mulch and row cover, support for transplanting capability and evaluation of a prone position weeding & harvest functions.

7 – Conditions and limitations

Extraordinarily wet conditions limited and or delayed many tests and operations in 2011. Many of these will be retested in 2012.

Access to tools i.e. finding suppliers of toolbar mounted ground engaging implements is quite difficult especially in the northeast as most of this type equipment has been replaced by chemical methods e.g. herbicides, etc. The scarcity of these suppliers and the lack of competition seems also to have affected the costs of many of these implements.

8 – Project Outlook

The reality of a short growing season, delays due to inclement weather and ability to obtain custom built parts and assemblies in a time frame conducive to farming activities made it impossible to design , build, and test more functionality.

An additional season of research is therefore requested to follow thru with the various plans.


Matt Lawrence

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering Technology
Alfred State College
371 SET Building
Alfred, NY 14802
Office Phone: 6075874652
Brian Baker

Executive Director
Institute for Sustainability
Alfred State College
Alfred, NY 14802
Office Phone: 6075874744