Grower Drill Fabrication for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions


Dwayne Blankenship

Mullan Trail Land Company, Inc., Pullman, WA


My farm is located in the SE corner of Adams county, Washington, consisting predominantly of long ridges with the upper slopes in the 40-45% range. Our soil type is mainly Walla Walla silt Loam in the hills, breaking out onto a shallower and somewhat sandier bench on the eastern edge of the farm. We call 10-12 inches of precipitation normal with the typical rotation in the area being wheat-fallow.

It has been about 20 years since I began putting together the design for the first drill. My opinion then and still is that a Direct Seeding Machine is first and foremost a fertilizer placement machine. With that in mind and considering the steep terrain the machine was to be used on, hillside stability and tracking became my main design focus.

Carrying seed and material for multiple fertilizer inputs adds up to a lot of weight. In order to make the weight work for the drill instead of against it, I moved the bulk of it as far forward as possible. The liquid tanks are carried on the front of the tractor in an effort to balance the load. The ammonia bottles arc carried on the hitch between the tractor and the drill. The front of the hitch is of course carried by the tractor, but the rear reaches under the drill frame to a point in line with the fertilizer banding discs. The discs are solid mounted to the tool bars and do not pivot. This minimizes side draft and also applies weight where it is most effective in helping the discs penetrate firm soil.

The original design used 24 inch straight disc blades on 20 inch centers followed by a knife for fertilizer banding. Double disc seed openers closely follow the fertilizer shank and are spaced 3 inches to each side for a 6"-14" paired row spacing.

There have been a number of shank and fertilizer point designs on these drills over the years. For consistency and availability one of the drills is now using a spring coil shank built by the McGregor Company. The other drill has been converted to a triple row 4"-4"-12" spacing and is using a heavy chisel type shank with a combination fertilizer and seed placement point.

We have had good success with the drills under a variety of conditions. We seed a lot of chemfallow and also annual crop into "fresh" wheat and barley stubble. The machines have also worked well following peas, lentils, and canola.


Width - 26' 8"

Spacing - 4"-4"-12" / 6"-14"

Openers - Fertilizer: 24" disc / knife; Seed: 20" double disc

Capacities - 80 bushels seed; 1000 gal NH3; 600 gal liquid

Depth control - hydraulic accumulator down pressure, depth wheels front and rear of free floating tool bars

Fertilizer placement - NH3 & liquid deep band between seed rows and liquid starter with seed



Above photos are of the Dwayne Blankenship drill, Pullman, WA.



Grower Drill Fabrication for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions


Jack Ensley

Colfax, WA


My son Mike is the farmer here now, but my experience with no-till began when I was chief and I'm still some involved. We farm in the Palouse both east and west of Colfax. My interest in erosion control began when I started farming over fifty years ago. It was because of this interest that I began working with no-till in the '70s. There was no machine available that suited me even if I'd have had the money to buy it, so I built one. It was twelve feet wide and we used it for several years. It served as a way to try different designs of seed openers, seed depth control, and whether the concept worked at all. We learned a number of things with that machine. First probably was that we could stop erosion on summer fallow ground by chem-fallowing it instead of cultivating it, and that crops were comparable to the conventional method. We also learned that pea and lentil ground did not need to be cultivated before seeding. This almost stops erosion here too. We also learned that seeding wheat into wheat stubble the year it was grown was not a good idea.

I was never happy with a twelve foot machine and something over ten years ago we started working with a wider machine. There are two main methods to get seed into the ground with any machine. They are the double disk and the shovel type openers. The double disk inherently puts all of the seed at the same depth and when it comes up it looks nice. The down side is that it takes either weight or breaking the ground ahead of it to get it in the ground. Also I know of no way to get fertilizer in the ground with the same opener as the seed without mixing it with the seed. Also it tends to push the surface residue down with the seed. The shovel opener inherently tends to pull itself into the ground and it is possible to put the seed down the same opener as the fertilized and keep them separate in the ground. Also it inherently puts the seed below the surface residue. For these reasons I chose to work with the shovel opener even on our little machine. Also there are two methods of getting the seed to the opener. Gravity is one way where a box of seed is carried above the openers and the seed drops into them. This is simple but you're limited in how much the openers can be spread out for trash clearance. The other way is an air distribution system where the seed is fed into an air stream and carried to the openers.

Our machine is a thirty-three foot air seeder capable of putting on both aqua ammonia and 10-34 phosphate. It uses shovel openers in which depth control is achieved by mounting each opener on parallel arms with a wheel to hold it where it is set. This seems to be unique because I have noticed commercially built machines that use chisel shanks with the only depth control being to try to hold the chisel frame the right distance from the ground. Also on our machine the seed and fertilizer both use the same opener. This makes for less equipment running in the ground and fewer pieces to get through the residue. Also less ground disturbance, and the seed is placed closer to the fertilizer. The point of the opener that puts the fertilizer in the ground is only one-half inch wide for less soil disturbance. A little beaver tail thing follows the fertilizer point and the seed comes out above it. This is what keeps the two separated. This machine works fine in the hills.

I do not mean to imply that this machine is perfect. We still experiment with the seed fertilizer separation control. Also the seed is not placed at as uniform depth as one would like. We think enough of it to use it for most of our seeding. This spring we sowed lentils conventionally. Everything else was sowed with it. We seed spring barley and spring wheat into one hundred bushel wheat straw. We do this by disking and chiseling and harrowing the stubble in the fall. I will quit with this.

Photos above are of the Jack Ensley air seeder, Colfax, WA.




Grower Drill Modication for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions


Jim Bly

Broughton Land Company, Dayton, WA


Hi, I=m Jim Bly. I am employed by the Broughton Land Company in Dayton, Washington. We farm approximately 12,000 acres of farm ground. We have about 15,000 acres of pasture with a cow-calf operation of about 700 pair. We have about 5,000 acres of timber in the Blue Mountains; certain parts are selectively logged every year. There are seven full-time employees that do the farm work. We have seven tractors and five combines, which do the majority of the work.

On the ranch in the past we've raised mainly winter wheat, peas, spring barley, and from 2,000 to 4,000 acres of summer fallow annually. Over the past several years we have been cropping more and more of our ground. Two years ago we only had 800 acres of summer fallow and this year, 1997, we had no fallow and 12,000 acres of crop. It makes a long harvest. With all the acres being planted we could see where a no-till drill could be a big benefit to the company.

In the past we had hired 500 to 1,000 acres of custom no-till seeding annually. But with all the acres being planted we could see owning a no-till drill would be beneficial. So, in 1995 we purchased a John Deere 750 no-till drill . Since then every year we have increased our acres seeded by no-till. In 1997, we no-till seeded about 5,000 acres of the ranch This past spring we no-till seeded about 2,000 acres; 600 acres of spring barley, 400 acres of spring wheat, 200 acres of condiment mustard, and 800 acres of spring oats. Last fall we no-till seeded for the 1998 crop about 2,600 acres of winter wheat and 300 acres of winter peas. I say we because we also used a 13 foot yielder to help get the job done.

I am here to tell you about the John Deere 750 no-till drill we own and the modifications we have done to make it an efficient part of our operation. We purchased the John Deere 750 no-till drill late summer of 1995. The first three seeding seasons we made no modifications, but there were problems--the drill only applied dry fertilizer, all of our time was spent hauling enough dry to get the nitrogen per acre we needed. We also had a lot of trouble with the dry fertilizer plugging in the deep banders. So we did some research and came up with some ideas we thought would be helpful. With the help of the McGregor Company of Dayton, and a very understanding farm manager, we went to work:

First, we removed the dry box for the deep banded fertilizer. This gave us the room we needed to put on an anhydrous ammonia tank for deep banding die fertilizer. With this modification we still needed a way to put on the anhydrous ammonia in the ground. We put on low disturbance Yetter Coulter fertilizer openers.

Second, we raised the seed/starter fertilizer box 10 inches using 10 inch channel iron. This assured us that the seed would flow if we were going up or down hill.

Third, we removed the crazy wheel from the hitch. This put more tongue weight on the tractor which was needed for better traction.

Fourth, we put more bracing in the front of the drill for two reasons: to help carry the weight of the anhydrous tank, and to help take out the dipping and diving when the drill is operating.

Finally, we thought Ahey, why not put tires on the side of the drill to help carry some of the weight and to help keep the drill from tailing down the hill". This was another challenge, and after some looking around and talking with other people, success was had. We came up with rear spindles, rims and axle tubes from a level land John Deer 9600 combine. These were installed 24" from the rear of the frame. This made the drill very stable in the hills and eliminated tailing. With these modifications complete, it was time to put the to the test.

Well, after approximately 600 acres it was back to the drawing board. The deep banding system didn't work. We went back to the John Deere opener and welded in stainless steel fertilizer tubes. They worked great. These modifications made the drill work really well, except for the hitch, I pulled it apart twice. Last winter we completely rebuilt the hitch and added more support to the pulling point. With two seeding seasons on the hitch it seems to be doing fine.

Am I finished with making modifications? I am until a new idea comes along.


Photo above is of the modified John Deere 750 drill by Jim Bly and the Broughton Land Company, Dayton, WA.



Grower Drill Modification for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions


Steve Willson

Colfax, WA


My name is Steve Willson and I farm in the Colfax, Washington area. Our rainfall varies on our farms from 17 to 24 inches. I have played with no-till or low-till for 17 years with many different models of drills. I began to narrow down what I did and did not like about many drills and decided I needed most of all a way to limit the number of trips over my fields in the spring of the year without compromising quality of yield. My intent was to use a drill already in manufacture, and modify it to seed and fertilize in many different conditions. The forward folding JD 455, 35-foot drill was used in my case. The factory features of offset leading-edge-seeding discs, high spring pressure and hydraulic down pressure capabilities, all lent themselves to any easy modification. The drill was put together in the winter of 1997 and I have seeded 3000 acres with it thus far. The drill performed beyond my expectations.

Drill Specifications

The JD 455 double disc drill is on 7.5-inch spacing and places fertilizer, paired-row on 15-inch bands. The original intent of the modification was to no-till or low-till in spring conditions in the 17-24 inch rainfall area. However, with timely fall rains, I found that the drill performed well to direct seed into pea/lentil ground and "burn and no-till" ground conditions.

Attributes of the drill include:

Fertilizer is placed via a JD single disc fertilizer opener designed originally for use in front of a Max Emerge corn planter. Fertilizer depth is 3 to 3.5 inches.

Modification time to convert a drill is three days maximum with two people. Total welding time is 20 minutes.

This system allows for maximum coverage of acres per day. With a 35-foot width and the ability to seed from 30 to 60 acres per fill, it is very easy to seed 200 acres in a 10 or 12 hour day.

This drill is not intended for high residue seedings. However, I did do some spring wheat stubble seeding this fall. The crops seeded with this drill include:

Spring wheat in fall chiseled ground

Spring wheat in fall plowed ground

Spring barley in fall chiseled, spring harrowed ground

Spring peas in fall plowed, spring cultivated ground

Winter wheat in pea groundCdirect seed

Winter wheat in burned-off spring wheat stubble

Winter wheat in fallow conditions

This drill is versatile enough to seed in conventional fallow as well as direct seedings

Hillside abilities appear to be excellent thus far

Total cost of modification was $12,600

Modification can be done for less

The drill is portable

Future design changes include: the adding of a different opener from other manufactures to lower drill conversion costs, and the addition of liquid starter fertilizer in the seed row.

This drill may not be the perfect answer for every farming situation, but it does supply the farmer with a tool that is relatively inexpensive for having a drill capable of seeding a wide range of conditions.

Photos above are of the modified John Deere 455 drill by Steve Willson, Colfax, WA.



Grower Drill Fabrication for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions


Mike Thomas

Prescott, WA


Our farm is located in the Skyrocket Hills at Prescott, WA. We are in a 15" rainfall zone and our farm has extremely steep slopes. Our soil type is Walla Walla and Athena silt loam. We raise wheat on a three year rotation, e.g.; fall wheat, spring wheat, chem fallow. The extremely steep slopes make our soil vulnerable to water erosion. We have tried several soil conservation practices and have found No-Till works best for us. If we don't till or disturb the soil, the erosion stops immediately. We chop and spread our residue at harvest time and then drag harrow. We prefer to leave the residue in place if possible, but if we can't get through it with our drill, we have no choice but to spot burn.

We have developed a Chisel Plow Type No-Till Drill that uses a specially designed point that bands fertilizer under the seed and provides fertilizer and seed separation of about 2-1/2 inches. This type of No-Till Drill has excellent soil penetration qualities without added weight and the specially designed point moves crop residue away from the seed row rather than tucking the crop residue in the seed row as frequently happens with a disc type furrow opener.

This chisel type No-Till Drill is 29' wide with an 11' center section and two nine-foot wings that wing up for transport. Two fertilizer systems are provided with different size fill fittings to prevent accidental mixing. Center section tank is 750 gal capacity and wing tanks are 100 gal each. A hydraulic controlled selector valve controls draw from wing tanks. Pressure gauges are mounted on top front of center section tank to monitor fertilizer flow. Seed boxes carry enough seed for two fertilizer fillings and are mounted high enough to feed all ranks going up hill or down hill. There are three ranks on 30" centers and furrow opener spacing is 12". Press wheels are optional and pivot horizontally and vertically and have adjustable down pressure provided by a spring loaded auto type booster shock. Shank mounting mode for press wheels uses the eight carriage wheels on the drill as press wheels by mounting shanks ahead of the wheels. For non press wheel application, shanks are all mounted behind drill wheels and shanks seed out drill tracks.

Outside drill wheels on each side of drill drive a telescoping and knuckle flexing power shaft that turns the fertilizer pump and seed cups. Power shaft is automatically disengaged when drill is raised out of the ground thereby stopping all seeding and fertilizing. Fluted feed seed cups feed from the front and are easily seen from the tractor. Drive wheels are in raised position when wings are in transport position and require no disengagement for roading. Power shaft U-Joints flex 90 degrees to facilitate wing up without disassembly. A #60 roller chain connects drive wheel axle with an idler shaft all enclosed in a 4" X 6" leg to provide the driving means for power shaft. Four hydraulic cylinders are mounted on the four legs to raise and lower the drill. Seeding depth is controlled by placing cylinder stops on these cylinders. The legs pivot on 1-1/2'' flange-type ball bearings and maintain precise chain adjustment as the cluster gear on the leg pivot shaft drives the clutch end of the power shaft. Hand crank adapters are provided on the clutch end of the power shaft for attaching a crank for manual power shaft operation. Chain adjustments are made by slotted bearing mounts and there are no chain tighten idlers.

Soil disturbance directly under the seed as the fertilizer and seeding process takes place has a beneficial effect by destroying disease pathogens that attack wheat seedlings. The patented No-Till chisel point has two stainless steel fertilizer delivery tubes to deliver fertilizer unmixed to the soil. On hillside operation, larger press wheels are used on center rank furrow openers to maintain better furrows.

Photos above are of the Mike Thomas drill, Prescott, WA.


Grower Drill Fabrication for Direct Seeding Under NW Conditions

The Z Drill for 2000CAnd Beyond


Don Zimmerman

Almira, WA


The HZ drill invented by Bob Zimmerman and manufactured by the John Deere Company provided a quantum leap in farming capabilities to the dry-land regions of the Northwest. It allowed the cultivation of high-yielding, but sometimes relatively poorly emerging varieties of cereal grains in areas of marginal rainfall. The patented technology of the HZ provided the first deep-furrow, inline opener, split-press-wheel, grain drill ever produced. This revolutionary drill of the 60's is still highly coveted. Although the drill is out of production, although it requires extensive maintenance and although spare parts are scarce, used HZ drills, if they can be found, can command more than three times their original purchase price.

Now, from the inventor of the drill of the 60's comes the drill of 2000 and beyond. The Z drill represents the ultimate evolution of the HZ. Everything the HZ does well, the Z drill has nearly perfected. In addition, the Z-drill has capabilities impossible to obtain with any other seeding apparatus or even with combinations of field operations. The Z drill is simpler, stronger, easier to adjust, and requires less maintenance than the HZ. In addition, the Z drill is more versatile than any other grain drill ever produced. This instrument for precision agriculture is so unique its principles of operation are protected by patents. The United States patent office has concluded that the Z drill is different in at least 147 ways from any other piece of farming equipment ever previously documented. To understand why the Z Drill is so effective, requires an appreciation of the nine requirements for optimal seeding.

Requirements for Optimal Seeding

The results of scientific investigations conducted at the Nation's leading agronomic research organizations have repeatedly confirmed that seeds placed in conditions of optimal emergence produce stronger, healthier seedlings. These seedlings are better able to establish extensive root systems. This in turn promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms and provides the necessary moisture and nutrients for vigorous growth, disease resistance and stress tolerance. Optimal emergence and development requires all of the following

1. Preparation of the seedbed. An ideal seedbed is firm, yet mellow.

2. Placement of the seed in moist soil.

3. Coverage of the seed by enough moist soil to prevent drying, but as shallow as predictable so that the seedling spends minimal energy reaching the soil surface.

4. Minimal compaction of soil above seed.

5. Precise seed placement. Drills that scatter seed throughout the seed bed profile have a high percentage of weak seedlings developing in sub-optimal conditions. This leaves crop stands vulnerable to the spread of plant diseases.

6. Removal of residue from the zone of seed placement and from the seedling crown. Residue harbors plant pathogens and as it decays it can release compounds that inhibit seed germination and development.

7. Reduction of competition by undesirable plant species. Residue between furrows inhibits weed growth.

8. Protection of seedling from wind and temperature extremes. Deep furrows can provide an excellent seedling nursery. Residues anchored into the soil, standing between furrows minimize surface wind speeds and erosion.

9. Precise placement of fertilizer in a narrow band directly below the seed. Fertilizer not confined and immobilized can leach below the zone of maximal root development. If fertilizer is placed too shallow it can leak out into the air. If nitrogen compounds are not immobilized and taken up by plants, they may eventually be transformed into compounds such as nitrous oxide that are lost into the atmosphere. Fertilizer that does not get incorporated into soil organisms and plants usually ultimately becomes pollution. This loss is expensive. Also, many essential plant nutrients (for example phosphorus) when generally broadcast through the soil can become strongly attached to soil particles and are unavailable to plant roots. Nutrients placed in a narrow band directly below the seed have a better chance to saturate the soil and to be taken up by crop roots


Putting Theory Into Practice--The Z Drill Implements the Science

Many drills currently on the market suffer from design compromises that favor performance on the highway, compromises that were made in order to utilize universal parts and they suffer from attempts to solve performance problems by adding more parts. The results sometimes resemble expensive mechanical dinosaurs. The Z Drill was designed to implement the research advances of the crop science community. This focus on performance has resulted in a design of elegant simplicity.

The Z drill's success hinges on its ability to independently but simultaneously fertilize, cultivate, aerate and to place the seed into optimal conditions. Three staggered ranks of fertilizing / cultivating shanks provide forty-five inches of residue clearance. The shanks are equipped with spear points to shatter the soil and to deliver fertilizer in a narrow band. Under dry conditions where a loose dust-mulch is present, the shanks can include shovels that mirror the press wheel profile and bring up moist soil to be trawled along the bottom and sides of the furrow. In weedy applications, the shanks can be equipped with sweeps. Regardless of the accessories added, the shanks loosen the soil, minimizing root stunting pathogens, and facilitating root growth and ease of root penetration. The shanks also initiate the removal of growth-stunting crop residues from the zone of seedling development. Finally, the shanks place fertilizer where it belongs-in the root zone directly below the seed. The shanks are immediately followed by a unique press wheel coulter combination. The Z Drill design effectively seals fertilizer into the root zone, where it can be quickly immobilized. Nutrients immediately stimulate root penetration and growth.

The coulter, made of specially hardened steel, is a flat one-half inch wide disc that is sandwiched between two press wheel halves and which protrudes two inches beyond the press wheel lip. The press wheels seek a solid seedbed, firm up the loosened soil, seal in the fertilizer, form the furrow sides, and anchor residue between the furrows providing a weed and erosion inhibiting mulch. The coulter cuts a starter slot into the seedbed. Immediately following and virtually touching the counter is a concentric seed opener. The tip of the opener gently fills the slot to the desired depth for seed placement. Following the opener is a light packer-wheel which insures good soil to seed contact. The inline openers of the Z drill can be easily, precisely and reproducibly set. via a frame mounted, calibrated indicator gage. Seed can be placed into the optimized seedbed at any desired depth from zero to two inches. The seed cover is uniform but not compressed. These optimal conditions result in quick germination and reliable emergence. The vigorous root and shoot development that follows enhances efficient nutrient utilization by the plant to promote optimal tillering and seed formation. Vigorous plants are better able to withstand stresses of diseases, herbicides, and severe weather to which most crops are subjected.

Even if moisture is deep, as in some trashy-summer-fallow, dust mulch situations, the Z Drill is able to move dry soil between the furrows with minimal sloughing, exposing the optimized seedbed for accurate seed placement. In the past, high rainfall areas, spring seeding and wet conditions were reserved for disc drills, but the Z-Drill can provide superior crop stands and healthier, stronger plants. The Z Drill precision makes it ideal for alternative crops such as Canola.

Heavy-duty construction, efficient rock trips and space-age steel alloys insure repeatability and long-lasting precision. The metal to metal contact of the HZ press-wheel-opener combination has been eliminated in the Z. Drill. Consequently, even in abrasive soils, there is little wear. Openers and press wheels pivot in gangs of four and coulters set as keels to ensure terrain-hugging performance and superior hill side tracking capabilities.

Deep furrow seeding, spring seeding, re-seeding in standing crops, hillsides, alternative crops and no-till farming--the Z Drill excels at each. The drill of the future solves today's problems, increasing production on the farms of tomorrow.

Rational for Production

1. The Z drill is the only deep-furrow no-till-capable seeding tool ever built. There are no competitors.

2. The principles of operation are protected by patents.

3. The HZ is in demand, the Z Drill is better in every measurable way.

4. The Z Drill increases production and productivity. Production gains quickly repay investment.

5. Compared to other no-till drills, the Z Drill is less expensive to own and to operate.

6. The Z-Drill solves legislative demands to conserve energy, reduce erosion and reduce pollution.

7. The Z Drill addresses the demand for a drill capable of reconversion of CRP to crops.

8. The Z Drill will allow the production of alternative, high market demand and specialty crops.

9. The Z Drill will enable the development of more efficient agricultural practices.

10. The Z Drill is rugged, reliable and versatile.


Photos above are of the Zimmerman Z Drill, Almira, WA.