ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What's a good planter/cultivator system that doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

Posted July 12, 2007

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I’ve been growing cut flowers, sweet corn, ornamental corn and pumpkins for several years. I’m starting to add more vegetables and herbs to the rotation. The transplanting and pumpkins are done by hand and the direct seeding is with an Earth-Way push seeder. The weed control is with a tiller, hands and hoes.

Well, the good news is that marketing has caught up with and surpassed production. The bad is that weed control is falling way behind. So now I’m trying to decide on equipment that will increase efficiency and hopefully do a better job. Not being experienced with these tools or knowing any vegetable farmers that don’t use herbicides, I’m writing for advice.

I have a 56-HP, four-wheel drive tractor with 42 inches between the tires. I use a three-bottom, 14-inch plow and a 6-foot tiller for ground preparation and cover crop incorporation. (Eventually I want a small chisel plow). After looking at a Market Farm Implement catalogue, I think I’ve come up with a wish list that will work and I can afford.

I was thinking of getting a raised-bed plastic mulch layer for use in transplanting and a Williams tool system to cultivate on non-mulched raised beds. I was also looking at the three-row Jang Automation Clean Seeder (Mechanical Transplanter Co.) on a three-point toolbar, and a fertilizer attachment that could hopefully go on the mulch layer or cultivator. I plan to use guide cones with both the seeder and cultivator.

Does this seem like a system that will work together, or do you foresee any problems? Are there other seeders out there that are reasonably precise but don’t cost an arm and leg? I’m hoping to shift the problems back from growing and cultivating to harvest and marketing, as it was before. If you can recommend a better system, or individual tools, that would be great, too.

Thank you,
Jason England


Dear Jason,

Thanks for the letter and for reading New Farm. I can see that you've really done your homework here. Market Farm Implement is a reputable company and the owners have a wealth of hands-on knowledge with the tools and equipment they sell. I'm sure they can answer your specific question on the compatibility of the tools you have selected.

I use a William Tool Bar system here at Rodale and I find that it works well in our soils and crops. We also use a two-row conventional cultivator that fits onto the three-point hitch. I think the plan you have laid out is a solid one based on reasonable expenditures for flexible and high-quality equipment. If you plan on using drip tape, get the attachment for the plastic-mulch layer.

These tools will certainly allow you to speed up your plant and weed management, and they should give you the control and flexibility you need for various crops and alleviate some of that hand work. You'll never get rid of it all, but hey—that's vegetables.

Good luck and stay in touch with how things work out.