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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid