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New Tool Improves No-Till Seeding

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
November 21, 2000

A new attachment designed by Agricultural Research Service scientists can improve performance of seed drills for growers who want to use no-till planting techniques.

No-till--placing seeds into soil through the leftover plant stalks, known as crop residue-- improves water use and reduces erosion.

But even drills designed for no-till are not without problems. In heavy residue, plant material lodges on the seed drill's furrow opening shank and gets dragged along as the equipment moves forward. Piles of residue up to 4 feet long and 1 foot high can spill over into the adjacent seedbed, smothering seedlings as they try to emerge.

ARS researchers in Pendleton, Ore., set out to make existing seed drills more effective. Their hope is that by reducing problems with the drills, more farmers will adopt no-till practices.

The new device consists of a rubber wheel with flexible "fingers" that attaches next to each furrow opener on the drill. The fingers pin the residue to the soil surface and hold it in place as the seed gets planted, preventing the plant material from lodging onto the drill.

The scientists tested their prototype in eastern Oregon, where narrow-row crops like wheat with heavy residue are common. Their results showed that seeding with the wheel attachment increased the number of seedlings 10 to 50 percent, depending on field conditions. ARS has applied for a patent on the equipment, which is available for licensing (Patent application 09/594,659).

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Mark C. Siemens, ARS Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center, Pendleton, Ore., phone (541) 278-4403, fax (541) 278-3795,