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Blow Your Cover | Homemade Seeder Gives Cover Crops a Head Start


This shop-built rig extends to 91/2 ft. tall to seed cover crops in standing corn. Charles Martin, Perry County, PA, and his four sons built it in August 2009 to blow on cover-crop seed in the rolling hills of Perry County, PA. “We can raise one side up and not the other with a thumb control on the joystick so the machine runs level along hillsides,” Martin says.

They applied for a patent for the Skyboy, as they call it, in September 2009. Open tubes with a fan behind them under the bin force the seed out between corn rows. A variable-speed drive synchronizes the seed-drop flutes with the ground speed. At the end of a row, it can be disengaged.

And, the rear wheels are hydraulically coordinated to follow in the same tracks as the front ones. Rear wheels can be disconnected from the front ones in a fixed position to compensate for hillside slippage.

Hydraulic drive provides a smooth ride.

Martin and his sons Dominic, Austin, Kerry and Shannon operate a fabrication and farm-repair shop nestled among the hills of Loysville, PA. They also farm, and adopted no-till about eight years ago. “With these hills, we sold our tillage equipment eight years ago and don’t want to see it anymore,” Martin says.

Austin custom farms, providing diverse setting to test the two-year-old rig.

“This seeder has the potential to change the game,” says David Wilson, agronomist, King's Agriseeds. “It can be very finely calibrated, making it more accurate than aerial seeding because a metered amount of seed drops between each row instead of wasting seed that lands in the corn whorls.

A mix of crimson clover, yellow-blossom sweet clover, annual ryegrass and radish was used to calibrate and test the machine, Wilson says. “The seeds left the tubes with enough force to hit the soil and be distributed nicely in between the corn rows and plants.”

A switch in the cab operates a fan that sends seed down a manifold, through flute meters. The meters are calibrated by seed type and are linked by GPS to the groundspeed.

 “This is a real fine work of welding construction and mechanical design with hydraulics fit to everything,” Wilson says.

“We changed it to four-wheel individual steering this year, built a trailer for it and made it so the 18-row arms can retract to be street-legal,” Martin says.

Each wheel has its own independent cylinder with no tie rods going across so they can spread the machine without pulling any pins. All operations, including height control, are controlled from the cab.

 They also added an Autoguide 500 GPS unit.

Martin is still brainstorming improvements for the two-year-old cover-crop seeder built from scratch. “It wouldn’t be hard to add on a sprayer unit so it can be used during two seasons instead of just one.”

Agronomic benefits

Beyond the engineering marvels of this machine, it offers the solid agronomic benefits of earlier cover-crop establishment.

“The challenge in corn and soybeans is establishing cover crops before frost, especially the legumes,” says David Wilson, King’s Agriseeds agronomist. “You want to establish cover crop earlier in the growing season when the crop is still metabolizing nitrogen,” Wilson says. “Otherwise, by the time corn hits black-layer stage, that’s not happening, and the mineralized soil nitrates leach below the root zone where it’s wasted.

“If we wait to seed cover crops until corn is harvested, the only option that late in the fall is annual winter rye for cold soil temperatures. This type of seeder should fit better with crops’ nutrient cycling.

“Previous generations knew this. Some of them

seeded medium red-clover cover crops by hand from horseback among midseason corn,” Wilson says.

To see a video and more information on this Skyboy, see

Late November 2010

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