January 21, 2007

Sosimo Ma. Pablico

Here comes the BPRE pneumatic corn planter

(FARMERS unanimously say that the most difficult operation in corn production is the planting of the seeds. With the traditional method of planting, at least eight persons are needed to plant a hectare in one day. A planter drops two seeds or more to a hill at variable distances as he walks the whole length of the field to and pro.)

Imagine the distance a planter traverses in a day as he sows the corn seeds. By the end of the day, he is already tired and exhausted. On top of this, women and children are not spared from the planting operation, especially in areas where there is a shortage of hired farm hands or when the farmer does not have enough cash to hire so many planters.

Manual planting causes uneven seed spacing and depth as well as uneven fertilizer application. The inherent inefficiencies in the system result in high production cost.

One solution could be the use of mechanical planters. However, BPRE [Bureau of Postharvest Research and Extension] chief science research specialist Ofero A. Caparino said that while mechanized planting offers a lot of potential advantages compared to manual planting, existing corn planters being used in the country are imported and costly.

True enough, imported corn planters have greater precision in the placement of seeds and fertilizer, more uniform distribution of seeds, and greater control in the seeding rate than manual planting. However, these machines are expensive and sometimes need modification to suit local conditions.

For one thing, imported corn planters using a mechanical seed metering system do not work well under local conditions because hybrid seeds in the Philippines are not graded according to size, Caparino said. Thus, the number of seeds dropped by the machine per hill is not consistent.

Although imported pneumatic corn planters can be used for any size of corn seeds, a brand new 2-row model costs P= 600,000 while a 4-row model costs P= 900,000. Imported mechanical planters are relatively cheaper but their use is limited to graded corn seeds.

Caparino said imported corn planters are usually big and inappropriate to the sizes of Philippine farms. As early as in 1986, it was already reported that more than 50 percent of the corn farms nationwide are less than two hectares. In 2005 Dr. Saturnina C. Halos claimed that the average size of individual farms in the Philippines was 1.5 hectares. In the Ilocos Region, however, the average size is way below one hectare.

One solution would be the consolidation of small and fragmented farms into one large farm so that the big imported machines could be used.

Instead of doing that, however, Dr. Renita SM dela Cruz of the BPRE Technology Systems Development and Adaptation Division recommended the development of smaller machines that would be appropriate for small farm sizes.

For instance, she said the planter-fertilizer applicator that was designed for bigger size four-wheel tractors should be re-designed for smaller tractors. Aside from lower investment, its smaller size would redound to greater flexibility in Philippine farms.

Development of the planter

In 2002 Dr. Manolito C. Bulaong and other BPRE engineers had already developed a prototype of a 2-row pneumatic corn planter. However, it needed further improvement before it could be commercialized.

Thus, Caparino and a host of other BPRE engineers set out to test the prototype corn planter under different field conditions.

Caparino’s team included Dr. Bulaong, Andres M. Tuates Jr., Wryan Quiel Z. Viloria, Donald V. Mateo, Jimmy P. Esguerra and Ruben E. Manalabe.

Caparino said the prototype had four assemblies: planting, fertilizer applicator, main frame, and drive assemblies. It used a pneumatic metering device to be able to plant any size of corn seeds. It can be installed in pairs like two rows, four rows, six rows and so on, depending on the horsepower rating of the tractor to be used.

Likewise, the prototype can be hitched on the rear of any four-wheel tractor by means of a standard three-point hitch. The planting assembly had adjustments for row and hill spacing, as well as soil depth. The fertilizer applicator assembly had an adjustable metering device and was made of stainless steel for protection against corrosion. Ideally, it should operate well under the smaller sizes of Philippine farms.

The prototype was tested and evaluated in Alcala, Binalonan and San Jacinto, Pangasinan, as well as in Quezon and Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija.

Results of the test and evaluation of the prototype led to modifications in the fabrication of a working model. The modifications were focused on the depth gauge, soil compactor, drive wheel, seed metering, base fertilizer tank, fertilizer metering, stand, and shafting.

The working model has the same features as the prototype plus the following:

-An optional furrower that can create half V-shaped or V-shaped furrows for easy irrigation after planting, which is the preferred practice in some corn areas.

-The seed metering and fertilizer applicator had separate ground wheel and gear box to reduce load and slippage.

-An agitator in the fertilizer metering system was included to avoid compaction and clogging of fertilizer.

-It had a detachable hitching system for better durability.

-Upgrading of material specifications which experienced frequent breakdown and wear out.

The working model was tested and evaluated in a sandy loam soil in Alcala and a clay loam soil in Binalonan using reconditioned Kubota tractors with 22 and 26 horsepower tractor rating, respectively.

It obtained the highest planting capacity of 3.3 hectares a day at a forward speed of 4 kph [kilometers per hour] under both sandy and clay loam soils. The highest hill planting efficiency of 93.73 percent was attained at a forward speed of 4 kph under clay loam soil.

Caparino said the machine’s field efficiency, 62.4 to 77.05 percent, is quite low. It is largely affected by the length and shape of the field and the skill of the operator during turning and maneuvering of the planter.

Comes the pneumatic corn planter

To recapitulate, the BPRE pneumatic corn planter can be mounted on the rear of any four-wheel tractor [22 to 35 hp] by means of any standard three-point hitch. It is equipped with a planting assembly, fertilizer applicator assembly, and furrower.

The machine uses a pneumatic metering system which enables it to plant corn seeds of all sizes. The metering system is operated by 5-hp gasoline engine.

The planting assembly has adjustments for row and hill spacing as well as seed depth. It also has a mechanism that covers the seeds with soil. Hill spacing could be set at 15 to 30 cm, row spacing at 65 to 75 cm, and seed depth at 5 to 10 cm. Each hopper can contain 5 kg.

On the other hand, the fertilizer applicator assembly, made of stainless steel for protection against corrosion, has an adjustable metering device that regulates the fertilizer applied depending on the field condition. The fertilizer application rate could also be set at 3 to 9 bags a hectare. It is recommended that only bag of fertilizer is placed inside the fertilizer tank at a time to minimize compaction.

The corn planter also has a furrower attachment that maximizes the use of water during the first irrigation after planting.

Its optimum forward speed of 3.3 to 3.8 kph attains a high hill planting efficiency.

The newly developed pneumatic corn planter was launched recently during the 4th Philippine National Corn Congress in Dagupan City, Pangasinan.

In his discussion of the machine’s features, BPRE executive director Dr. Ricardo L. Cachuela said mechanization offers the following benefits: increased cropping intensity; reduced labor requirement; reduced human drudgery; faster operation; increased productivity; improved quality and value of output; and precise, efficient and timely operations.

Caparino said the investment cost, P= 585,349 including reconditioned tractor and working capital, can be recovered in 3.55 years if the machine shall be used for custom services.

For more information, contact the BPRE Executive Director at tel. nos. (044) 456-0213, 456-0290; fax no. (044) 456-0110; email execdir@bpre.gov.ph.

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