Renting Food Plot Equipment Makes No-Till Farming Possible for Hunters

Certain food plot practices like no-till farming can require expensive equipment. This keeps many out of the game. Before you give up, call around for a rental.
Renting Food Plot Equipment Makes No-Till Farming Possible for Hunters

I’ve pretty much been going about food plots like most of you — spray the existing vegetation to kill it, disc it under several weeks later, broadcast seed blend and fertilizer, disc again to cover it and finally use a cultipacker to firm the seedbed up.

I’ve been producing beautiful food plots, too. But could I do better?

I’ve been researching and learning a lot about no-till farming the past couple of years. The basic concept of no-till farming is that you have a variety of crops growing in the soil year-round and you never disc your soil.

Renting Food Plot Equipment

By drilling seed directly into the ground through no-till farm practices, you’re barely disturbing the soil. In comparison, when you disc a field, you’re releasing all of the soil moisture in the disturbed layer as well as reducing beneficial microbes and earthworms. Photo: Mark Olis

In the fall, you’ll plant a blend of cereal grains and clover like you’d do anyways for deer and turkey plots. Then in late spring, the cereal grains grow tall and mature and form a seed head.

At this point, you use a no-till grain drill to plant your summer legumes — soybeans, iron-clay cowpeas, lablab, etc. — directly into the standing fall crop. Next, terminate the fall blend by either spraying a non-selective herbicide or using a roll crimper. The dying fall grasses then break down to form a mat of vegetation that slowly decomposes — acting as a slow-release fertilizer, weed mat and mulch to help retain soil moisture.

Meanwhile, the summer crops are taking up the slow-release of nutrients from the decaying fall crop, while steadily growing into high-protein food to be consumed by deer during the warm-weather months.

The benefit is two-fold though. By drilling seed directly into the ground, you’re barely disturbing the soil. In comparison, when you disc a field, you’re releasing all of the soil moisture in the disturbed layer as well as reducing beneficial microbes and earthworms.

Expensive Grain Drills

The major drawback to no-till farming is expensive grain drills. This specialized piece of heavy farm equipment can cost between $10,000 and $25,000, whether used or brand new.

However, hunters can’t obtain true no-till food plots without one. A no-till drill can plant in one pass. Here’s how it works.

In one pass with a no-till drill, a heavy-duty coulter first cuts a slit in the ground and existing vegetation, then a double-disc opener widens the slit. A gear inside the seed hopper above accurately meters out the seed, which is dropped through a tube and straight into the opened cut in the ground. Next, a press wheel that has pressure pushing down on it rolls over the opening in the ground and covers the seed.

Renting Food Plot Equipment

A gear inside the grain drill's seed hopper accurately meters out the seed, which is dropped through a tube and straight into the opened cut in the ground. Photo: Mark Olis

There are several adjustments on a no-till drill that allow you to plant at specific seed depths and at different seed rates per acre. So, a no-till drill not only eliminates all the other aspects of traditional food plotting (disking, broadcasting seed, covering seed and cultipacking), but it is so efficient with seed-to-soil contact, that you use nearly half the amount of seed than if broadcasting.

Even with all these advantages, I still didn’t have the budget for a no-till drill. That is, until I found out I could rent one!

Renting Grain Drills

I’ve heard in the past that some United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) rented grain drills out. However, I kind of doubted I’d locate one in our area of east-central Alabama. We’re not an agricultural mecca like the Midwest and central United States. However, late this summer I decided it wouldn’t hurt to make some phone calls.

I started with a nearby county’s NRCS office and they eventually patched me through to someone who they thought could help. The nice gentleman told me about a couple counties north that had them, but they couldn't rent them for use outside of the county. He did give me the phone number to a NRCS office in the county where we hunted, so I called them.

They didn’t have a grain drill either, but the contact there gave me a number to the county Soil and Water Conservation Committee (SWCC), because she thought they could help. The mission statement of Alabama’s SWCC says: We work to promote healthy soil, fishable and drinkable water, sustainable forests, and clean air to cultivate a prosperous farming industry and improve quality of life for all Alabama citizens.

So, I called the lady at the county SWCC office and asked her if they rented out grain drills. To my surprise, she said, “You’ll have to call Mr. Hallman, here’s his number.” I immediately called Mr. Hallman and left him a detailed message. He called me back a few hours later and said, “We just purchased a brand-new Great Plains grain-drill this spring.”

Renting Food Plot Equipment

The author poses in front of his rented grain drill. It took a few phone calls, but he eventually hit pay dirt and now he's no-till farming on his hunting lease. Photo: Mark Olis

Excited, I asked how much the rental fee is. “It’s a $70 minimum or $7 per acre planted if you plant more than 10 acres,” said Mr. Hallman. I only have 5 acres of food plots, so we setup a weekend that it was available and two weeks later on a Saturday morning I went and picked the drill up with my truck.

This specific drill was a Great Plains 706NT with side wheels, hydraulic lift for tall clearance when driving down the highway and maneuvering along hunt-club roads and adjustable hitch to haul with truck and tractor. This isn’t a little implement. It weighs about 3,800 pounds and is 10-foot-wide from outside of tires.

However, it absolutely blew my mind with the planting. I literally made one pass through all of our plots and our seed blend of cereal grains was planted. I planted 5 acres of plots in 6 hours and that includes a lunch break and slowly maneuvering the implement through our narrow road systems. As long as our county has this drill, I’ll be renting it for all my fall and summer plantings.

Don’t give up on no-till food plots. The benefits are huge and, if you can locate a local USDA agency that has one to rent, then I highly recommend that you try it. It’s changed my food plotting style!



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