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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid