News / Science & Technology

Hand Planter Could Save Time, Money for Small Farmers

Engineer Demonstrates Prototype Hand Planteri
X
August 27, 2013 6:51 PM
Jelle Van Loon, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, demonstrates a prototype hand planter.
Jelle Van Loon breaks tools for a living.

At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center outside Mexico City, which is known by the Spanish acronym CIMMYT, the shaggy-sideburned engineer strikes the ground with a V-shaped, waist-high planting tool.

Its metal tip pierces the soil. He closes the sides of the V and the planter deposits a seed and a small dose of fertilizer into the earth.

Lift. Strike. Repeat. Van Loon says for a typical developing-world farmer who plants and fertilizes a couple hectares of land by hand, this tool could save days of work.

And by delivering just the right amount of seed and fertilizer, it can save money, too.

There’s one problem. It broke.

Learn by breaking

“We put our strongest guy on it and we let him work it.” He was “over-enthusiastic,” Van Loon said, and broke the chain connecting the two sides of the V.

What’s more, the wood swelled in Mexico’s tropical downpours, and some of the parts rusted.

“Which is a good thing,” Van Loon said, because by seeing tools break in real-world conditions, his team knows what it needs to improve before this planter will work for farmers here.

Researchers around the world are working to build simple machines that will save small-scale farmers time, money and effort.

The challenge is to make those tools both affordable and durable for farmers who don’t have much money to invest.

Motorcycles and farm tools

Van Loon is well suited for the job. His background is in rural development, but in his spare time he tinkers with cars and motorcycles.

His latest project has been fixing up his Kawasaki 650 motorcycle.

“It’s making a lot of noise, waking people up in the morning here,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great for the potholes on Mexican roads.”

Applying his gearhead instincts to farm tools, he put a stronger chain on the hand planter and found wood that didn’t swell so much in the rain. He’s testing a new model.

The prototype cost about $200 to make, though the mass-produced product will cost significantly less.

But Van Loon said it would be a worthwhile investment.

“The acquiring cost is a little bit higher, maybe, at first, but the return on investment is higher because inputs [are] lower,” he said. Seed and fertilizer are expensive, Van Loon noted, and “if you can lower the amount of seed you use, this is what you’re going to feel in your pocket.”

Testing and tweaking

Under a corrugated metal roof at CIMMYT’s headquarters, Van Loon showed off a row of prototype hand tools, animal-drawn planters, and equipment pulled behind small engines.

They’re all being tested and tweaked to adapt them to different environments and types of farming, while keeping them affordable.

For example, an off-the-shelf toothbrush installed in one of the larger machines sweeps out the planting mechanism to ensure only one expensive seed is planted at a time.

Agronomist Bill Raun is also wrestling with a prototype hand planter at Oklahoma State University. He and his colleagues are trying to design a $50 tool that will reliably plant exactly one seed per strike, over and over, for a decade.

“We want a unit that will plant 100,000 seeds per hectare for 10 years. So, that’s a million seeds. So, we want 1 million cycles with no failure,” he explained.

They have not reached that level of reliability yet. “We’re getting there,” he said. “But it has been a challenge.”

When it’s ready, he’s working with a major farm machinery company to make the tool available to farmers around the developing world for about $10, with the rest of the cost subsidized by grants or other funding.

It’s being tested out in El Salvador, Guatemala, Zambia and Kenya.

Raun hopes another six months or so of testing will produce the reliable product he is looking for.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Pun from: bangkok
August 28, 2013 10:04 AM
good thinking!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs