A Farmer’s Drill: Planting 40 Feet at a Time

A drill, or seeder

We got a new drill at the farm, but it probably doesn’t look like any drill you have in your toolbox at home. A drill, also called a seeder, is what we use to plant our fields each year. Everything from our KAMUT® wheat to our alfalfa are planted using a drill.

Drills last a long time and ours have been around for a while. In fact, we still use an old drill that was made back in the 1950’s for our small experimental plots These “new” ones we got are really about 15 years old. We sold our large air drill to allow us more flexibility and precision, seeding the many crops we plant. It’s been our experience these more conventional drills do the job better for us and are easier to operate and maintain.

A drill is pulled behind a tractor, but it’s not meant to till the soil. They’re actually best if they don’t. Drills are meant to plant seeds and they can be set to drop seeds at set intervals, to achieve the desired seeding rate. They can also control the seeding depth, which is important because small seeds are normally seeded less deep than large seeds. Packer wheels behind the drill firm the soil over the seed so there is good seed to soil contact. Not unlike planting a seed in your garden or flowerpot.

The hoppers along the top of the drill are where we put the seed. At the base of each hopper are several tubes. Each tube leads to what’s called a shank and at the end of the shank is a point. Together, the shank and point look like a long, metal claw which can be lowered using a hydraulics system.

There’s a certain appeal to these older model drills, the biggest of which being that there are very few moving mechanical parts. This means that basic repairs can be maintained here on the farm or worked around when we’re out in the field. They also tend to be lighter because there’s not as much heavy gadgetry weighing them down. This is particularly good since it means less soil compaction and better crop yields. Our drill works entirely by gravity; the seeds fall through the tubes and into the shanks. The points are only meant to open the earth to the desired depth, dispersing the seeds at the desired rate, while the rollers follow after, packing the seed in.

With planting season just around the corner, we’re checking and double-checking our equipment in preparation. This particular drill covers a 40-foot spread, and chugging along at 5 miles per hour, it takes us about an hour to plant 24 acres. It makes for long days but there’s nothing more satisfactory than the look of a newly planted field and the anticipation of the new crop for the coming growing season.