Finding the Technological Sweet Spot: The Smallholder Conservation Agriculture Maize Seeder

  •  Rebecca Harman    
  •  Neal S. Eash    
  •  John E. Morrison    
  •  William E. Hart    
  •  Casey T. Sullivan    
  •  Dayton M. Lambert    


The seeder is integral to smallholder agricultural production. This technology seeks to lessen farmer labor requirements, meter seeds accurately, and minimize excessive soil disturbance. Hand seeders play a central role in conservation agriculture (CA) for the smallholder farmer as a means to plant through residue cover and penetrate non-tilled soil surfaces. Two trials in maize (Zea mays, L.) residue and soybean (Glycine max, L.) residue were conducted to test seven seeders of increasing mechanization levels: five hand operated, one mechanized, and one tractor-drawn control. The experiment site was in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, at the Eastern end of the US “Corn Belt” that had been under continuous no-till production for seven years. Experimental conditions at the site sought to mimic smallholder conditions through seeding and hand harvesting. Seeders were evaluated based on plant population establishment, crop growth stage, crop heights and final maize grain yield. The hand seeders were further evaluated based on their economic viability and usability – key challenges to the ultimate adoption of new seeding technologies. The study found that the seeders tested performed equally to the control, the John Deere MaxEmerge Conservation planter, the crop-seeding capacity and price evaluation identified the Haraka rolling planter ill-suited for smallholders while the OSU Greenseeder proved highest qualitative performance. In conclusion, all evaluations indicate that a medium level of mechanization is appropriate and necessary to be successful in a smallholder CA system although continued research is necessary. 

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