Precision Planting with the MaterMacc Vacuum Seeder: EP67 | Show Notes

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This is the “Ag Engineering” podcast that rolls right into the details on tools, tips, and techniques that improve you, your farm, and our world. I’m your host, Andy Chamberlain from the University of Vermont Extension, and this podcast is sponsored by Northeast SARE. Thanks for listening. Harrison, welcome to the show.
Hey, thanks for having me.
So if you could describe your farm in one sentence, what would you say?
I’d say we’re a mid-sized diversified vegetable farm growing year round in the Pioneer Valley.
Well, welcome.
Thank you, thank you.
I was lookin’ at your YouTube channel, and I noticed you did some videos on the MaterMacc planter, and I saw that planter in person down in Pennsylvania and thought it was pretty sweet, did a couple videos on it myself, and then it looked like you’re a big fan of it, but I really haven’t seen it or heard of people with one or talked to anybody with one since I saw it on the showroom floor, essentially. So. I thought it’d be great to get some input from you on what you liked about it. To start off, where’s your location, what’s your town and state?
So we’re Bardwell Farm, and we’re located in Hatfield, Massachusetts right here in the Pioneer Valley right next to the Connecticut River.
How many years have you been farming?
I’ve been farming for about seven years now. The farm’s been in our family since 1685. So I’m actually a ninth generation Bardwell farm farmer in this town, which is pretty amazing. I like to use that. I’m the new generation. The business kind of, I don’t wanna say retired, but it slowed down in my grandparents’ era. My father never fully got into it but kind of always worked part-time. So about seven years ago, I established it again as my business, so a new business pretty much under the name, and I’ve been growing it slowly since then. So, yeah, I established it back in 2016 was the first year I had it as my own. So this year, we’re gonna be 30 acres of diversified vegetables. We’ve got about a different, got about 50 different varieties that we’re growing throughout the season between winter high-tunnel production and main season field productions.
What are your primary markets?
So I started as a retail farm stand, self-serve farm stand, when I first started. So that’s been kind of the staple of my business for the past seven, eight years now. We slowly jumped into a CSA. We started three years ago. This will be our fourth season, I believe. Last year, we just jumped into farmer’s markets. So we did three farmers markets last year.
Oh wow.
And we’ve been slowly gaining traction and actually quite expanding on our wholesale as well. So we kinda do a little bit of everything right now, and we’re kinda honing on what works best for us with the changing channels of sales and people’s, you know, activity and interests, so, you know. COVID really helped push retail. Last year, wholesale took off quite a bit, too, so.
Yeah, yeah, the last couple years really threw a wrench into the market channels, for sure.
Yeah, so being newer to a lot of in the past three or four years is really when my business has taken, kinda gone the path that it’s been. We’ve kinda been doing a lot of new things. So we’re trying to figure out what’s best for the business, so.
How many employees do you have?
During the main season, we probably have at max 10, and then I’ll split between retail and field staff, so my production crew’s somewhere around five to six people on the busier part of the season, and the retail’s probably about the same. Little less this year.
Well today we wanted to talk about the MaterMacc planter. I saw you do a video on this, and I’ve also done a video and seen it. So I wanted to learn a little bit more about this planter. So just jump right in, tell me a little bit about it. What is this MaterMacc planter you’ve got?
So, this is a two-row precision vacuum MaterMacc planter actually custom built for myself with no-till attachments and features on it. So that’s kinda, kinda makes it unique to other ones out there.
Yeah, the no-till is definitely of interest as a lot of farmers are transitioning or trying to reduce tillage and lean more that direction. Did you get yours set up no-till from the start?
Yeah, so I did a lotta research. I was actually looking for a grant for this planter, and I actually got the ACRE grant through MDAR for this planter. I’ve always been interested in no-till, so I was really looking for something to start that off with. So I did a lotta research. I was still pretty new at it, but I knew I wanted this planter specifically for other reasons we can get into, but knowing the capacity and talking with Market Farm Implements is actually where I purchased this, working with Dave, was a great guy, and we really talked about what I was looking to do with the planter, and he took that, and he ran with it and designed a, you know, custom built for myself, for my farm. So that was neat.
What made you decide that you really wanted this planter?
So, I’m a diversified vegetable farm, and I don’t have a million dollars in my back pocket to buy a different piece of equipment for every crop I grow. So I was looking for an implement that I could do or plant multiple different things with. So when I saw this planter, the features alone, I can talk a while about, but I’ll touch upon a few is the sliding toolbar to adjust spacing between rows on the planter, the plethora of different spacings you can do within the planter, the multitudes of crops alone you can plant
with this crop, or with this planter, excuse me, just kind of blew my mind. I was looking for something that you could quickly change and adapt to going from planting a carrot seed to planting a squash seed, something that would lay fertilizer effectively and efficiently, and all in all, I was just, I was looking for that precision. Things are getting more expensive year after year. So I was really looking for a machine that could plant multiple things and do it down to the, you know, quarter inch or something. And this planter, honestly, will do that, which I was really amazed at. So this planter, just a quick background, this planter, I can plant a small seeded crop on bare soil, even a raised bed, four-inch raised bed, all the way up to a no-till or limited-till, squash or pumpkin or corn seed. And you know, that’s the range of diversity with this thing. And that’s what I really wanted to design. And I think I’ve pretty much gotten there, which is cool.
Yeah, we mainly wanna talk about this planter, obviously, but are there other planting tools that you use on your farm?
I’ve got a, so that’s the main one. I actually just this past year purchased a three-row Checchi and Magli Unitrium transplanter. I’ve got a paper pot transplanter I use. And then I’ve got a little Jang push seeder. It’s kind of the start foundation of the farm.
And, no, no, that’s a good set a, that’s a good set a tools in your toolbox.
Yeah, yeah.
Did you look at other brands of vacuum seeders? I mean, there’s a few out there. What made you land on MaterMacc besides from a few of the special features?
Yeah, you know, I looked at, I think Monosem was really the other brand that I saw, and it just, you know, I didn’t dive much into, like, John Deere or any of the other ones. I just didn’t think that they’d have the capacity, what I was looking for. I think Monosem was that other really close comparison. And I think that one offered a lot, but in my eyes, it didn’t offer the versatility the MaterMacc could give me, but I think if you look at, like, those two units, hand-in-hand, they could be pretty comparable in what you’re looking to get out of them. But I did a lotta research with the MaterMacc and the folks I talked to, I, you know, I sold myself on it. I guess.
It’s a nice machine, that’s for sure. Did the grant you have cover the entire planter?
It covered up to, I believe, it was 80% of the planter. Back then, I think I paid, I think it was around $14,000 for the, it was the two-row system with the attached no-till implements on them.
I have since added, incorporated, modified some stuff to the planter that I think raised the value of it quite, quite a bit, so. As I learned, and as I got a little more, a little more money to be able to do more with it.
And experimented in several different conditions and everything, kind of dialing in your systems, that makes sense to
Right, right.
swap out some things. How long did it take to, for them to build it for you once you placed the order?
If I remember correctly, I think it was probably, like, a four to six-month turnaround ’cause a lot of this was a custom-build. If I remember correctly, it took quite a few months to get there, and we, actually, we drove down and picked it up, so it was really neat to see the warehouse and Dave and,
And the whole show, so.
They’ve got a lot of stuff in their warehouse.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, But I’ll say with that, working with Dave, like I had never touched a MaterMacc before I even ordered this thing. Just seeing it online and, honestly, it’s quite difficult to really dive deep into the planters online because they’re not made in the U.S. And so going down there and Dave took me step by step through this planter of every little itty bitty thing that it did, that you could adjust, how it worked, and that was kind of a lifesaver because this planter has so much to it that, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you’re gonna get confused or it’s gonna take you a little bit to really understand how everything works and going from, you know, mechanical planters to a, you know, a vacuum precision was totally different in one side of things, all in all. So that was really, really nice to go down there and work with him and get everything explained to just by step by step really helped me gain the knowledge I have today. It was kind of a foundation, so.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. There, like, there are a lot of variables on a vacuum planter, especially when you start adding in no-till and down pressure things and closing wheels and openers, and there’s just, like, there’s so many knobs to turn and levers to pull. I can see where it takes a while to figure out what’s gonna work, and does it take much adjustment based on conditions or have you pretty much found that the settings that you need to use for your certain crops?
You talking bare ground and no-till, or just.
You tell me.
So I will say the bare ground definitely is a lot more easier to hone down those depths and adjustments. Aw, let me think, so, like, you’re in row spacing. If you’re planting sweet corn and you want 10 inches, that’s pretty much spot on. You put the gears to where you need it, and it’s good. So I’ve kept track of that. The depth is where you can kind of get finicky, especially with smaller seeded stuff you gotta pay more attention with. I’ve actually this past season incorporated what are called farm flex wheels. They’re a small flatter wheel meant for, like, a small seeded planter but designed to work on these larger
units, so that took three or four settings to actually really figure out the proper depth for spinach, for instance, a smaller finicky crop. But I’ve, over the years, the first year I had it, I really took good notes ’cause you’re adjusting your spacing. You’re adjusting your depth. You are changing your seed plate. You are changing, I call it the seed remover, but there’s this, I have no clue how it actually does its job, but there’s–
Singulator, I think that’s what–
yeah, yeah, yeah, the singulator, thank you. You know, keeping track of the singulator with different size seeds, with different plates, you know, it’s kind of a step by step thing every time I go to set up the planter to something new. And when you’re going from something like, like three rows of spinach to, like, maybe one row of cucumbers on a raised bed, you know, it probably takes me a good half an hour, 45 minutes to get that thing completely switched around to do what I wanna do with it, but I can do it with that one planter, which, you know, I think you gotta think about your costs into the planter and then your time. You know, some stuff might weigh hand-in-hand, but I think, overall, it’s, if you’re looking to save and not have four different planters to do different things and have 50,000 invested in planters, instead of just maybe 15, you know, it’s a good option, so.
Well, especially as you’re scaling from a couple of rows of a crop to acres of a crop.
Right, correct, yep. So, you know, the other half of this planter is, like, it was designed to be a no-till planter, and the really the cool thing about it is that, even though it has all these no-till features on it, like, like this has a whole expanded toolbar on it to, one, add weight, to, two, to add the coulters needed for the no-till, which is really cool. It’s like you can use this just as well in bare ground soil, as you can in a no-till system without having to rip the thing to pieces. It really, it’s minute adjustments. The biggest thing is I’ve got a couple Martin floating row cleaners, if you’ve ever heard of those, or Yetter floating row cleaners, that Mount to the front of the planter for the no-till system. Those are, they’re heavy to deal with, I’ll say that. So those come on and off, depending on the crops we’re planting. Need a small seeded crops, specifically, those are gonna come off. The fertilizer coulters easily come in and out, but again, they’re heavy to deal with, but I can switch in between a single row, double row, take ’em out completely, whatever I want there, but transitioning from the no-till or like from bare ground to transitioning to the no-till, that takes a little time set up. And that takes definitely some time to figure out how it’s gonna work in the field condition you’re dealing with. And so that’s like your, I guess, the front of your planter, if you will. The planting unit itself works the same. Your furrow opener for your seed placement where your fertilizer drops, that’s all the same bare ground or no-till which is nice. Where things change up again is dealing with your row closer or your seed closer in bare ground. You know, I’m sure a lot of people are used to like the regular circular V closing wheel for your bare ground soil, which is what my planter originally came with. And then Market Farm Implement actually incorporated this more sturdier, angled circular V wheel, rubber V wheel that was meant more for no-till that they called, at that point. I had, this past year, done more research and actually incorporated a Yetter poly twister closing wheel is what it’s called, and what this is, it’s a notched, it’s a plastic, hard plastic notched wheel, and what this does is it kind of acts like I’d say a finger weeder almost. And what it does is actually presses into the soil and indents the soil after the seed is placed. So it’s not just pushing soil over the top of the seed. It’s actually pushing the soil and indenting into the soil so you have
a better seed-to-soil contact because when you’re working with no-till, your seed-to-soil contact is much more difficult to achieve versus bare ground, obviously. So those were the two main adjustments I made this past year with the planter, and there’s still a lot more adjusting to come with it at, you know, it’s really condition-based and residue-based in your field and how you’re managing that. But it’ll plant through, it’ll plant through three feet of standing rye, sweet corn, primarily, does the best or field corn does the best, but it’ll plant through three feet of standing rye and you’ll get a crop to emerge out of it pretty well, so that’s the amazing part of it. And the first time I went through with the planter, and I saw it pop outta the ground, it was just jaw dropping and mind blowing, you know? For someone that hasn’t really seen or dealt with no-till ever, so yeah, it was cool.
Three feet of rye. That is a lot of biomass. Was that crimped down at all, or you just, it was still standing?
That was killed with Gramoxone or Roundup.
And then let die for around a week or two weeks and then planted into. I’ve also planted into one or two-foot standing rye that hasn’t been killed and then, and then killed it afterwards. I make this sound very easy, but there is difficulties to this, and that’s what I wanna explain is that your conditions of when you’re terminating cover crops and when you’re working with those residues is really, really important. And really, I think more crop-specific as well
With the planter, so.
Yeah, no-till in corn, we’ll say corn, generally speaking, I think is becoming more and more we’ll call it mainstream across the board, but I think no-till in a smaller scale sweet corn type of setup is still relatively new, especially to us farmers in the Northeast. So it’s always super interesting to hear people’s experiences with it, and those that get it dialed in say it’s phenomenal, but yeah, like, like you said, figuring out the right, the right conditions in order to work with the system, it seems to, seems to be a common thread that’s tricky.
Yeah, and, you know, I can’t say there’s any right answer of how to do it correctly. I think it’s just working with your soil conditions and, you know, the equipment you have and figuring it out on your own, it’s, you know, that’s what I’ve done, and I’m still not, I’m not there yet, you know? But year after year, learn something new, adjust something differently and try, trial it, throughout the season is really the best way to go about it. But, you know, you’re cutting down on so many different passes through the field, expenses with fuel, expenses with fertilizers, if you will, wear and tear on equipment, so it’s really, I think it’s a unique thing to do, and definitely for the Valley here, the Northeast.
Soil does have a big impact. What type of soil do you have?
We have a silty loam here. We actually have some of the best soil in the country, the world , down here in the Pioneer Valley, which is really awesome. We don’t have a single rock ever anywhere. I don’t even know what rocks look like in fields. I don’t want to. So, you know, honestly, that helps a lot with this system because you’re not dealing with extra, I guess, trash, if you will, in the field. And our equipment gets a lot less abrasion year after year. So it’s, I guess it’s nice to deal with. We’re lucky.
Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. We grow six acres of sweet corn, and we’re near a river, so we’ve got, like, just gravel beds, all swirling through it. It’s a little more challenging than a loam like that, but have you ever had a major failure or let down from this planter?
Yeah, definitely. I guess I can touch upon two things quickly. Last year, I mentioned the spinach, and I incorporated some new parts onto the planter, and I was really, coupled with weather, but I was really having a difficult time finding good seed depths and getting seed to cover with these new Farmflex wheels I was dealing with. And so that was challenging. I had two or three settings in the ground, which really had very poor germination and actually, on the last one, I nailed it. I figured out exactly how that worked with certain conditions, why, how. You know, to me seeding anything, direct seeding anything, I always get a little bit of a anxiety attack, just, you know, is it gonna come out? You know, what you expected it to be? And, you know, the simple answer is half the time, yes, half the time, no. You know, so that was probably one of the big failures I’ve had, you know, overall with the planter on the bare ground side of things. All in all this planter with your regular standard V closing wheel, it does a phenomenal job. You can nail down the depth. You can nail down the spacing. Mechanically wise, I’ve never really had any issues with anything moving, working properly. Granted it’s only four-years-old, but I maintain it well because it’s an expensive piece of machinery. So, you know, I want this thing to last quite a while.
It’s a key tool that you can’t have it let you down.
Yeah, and you know, on the other side of things, I’ve definitely dealt with some issues with no-till. Again, last year I was managing a crop residue of rye to plant pumpkins and winter squash into, and the rye got too big for the planter to really wanna chop through. So we dealt with some binding up issues. We dealt with poor seed-to-soil contacts in certain areas. And, you know, I think it’s having those experiences and learning and remembering ahead of time, okay, this crop needs to be terminated maybe a couple weeks earlier, or maybe we need to go in with a zone tiller or something, and then going in with the no-till equipment to do what you need to obtain. And that’s what I’m learning is that strict no-till with anything besides sweet corn, you’re gonna run into challenges just because the behavior of the seed, the behavior of the crop. Corn, as everyone knows, is just kind of bulletproof. You can probably throw it on the top of the soil, and okay, it’ll grow, but you know, so, yeah, there’s definitely been some struggles, and it’s really, you know, just like anything in farming. I think you gotta do it to know how it’s gonna work for you with what you have, so.
That’s great to hear that insight ’cause it’s tricky, and the anxiety you mentioned before direct seeding is so true. It’s like, aw, this, here goes this gamble.
Glad I’m not the only one.
Yeah, that’s nerve-wracking, and like you said, so rewarding when you see it pop up
After the rain finally comes.
Def, yeah, yeah. Hopefully not too much this year.
Yeah, exactly, yeah, just enough. Did you have a vacuum planter on your farm at all before this one?
I did not. I had an old antique two-row John Deere mechanical transplanter that was just primarily for sweet corn. So this was really, this was, like, I wanted to take that leap. You know, I was ready to invest in something to work here. And that’s where I did my research on the vacuum, and just knowing how well the precision works and the benefits of it, really, I knew the cost was gonna be there, but I knew the benefit was gonna be there as well, so.
What experiments are you gonna try this year to make it better?
Yeah, so I didn’t mention it before, but this was my first year with a three-row unit. So I’ve got three, they’re actually, they’re 82 series MS 82 series. So they have the sliding toolbar feature on ’em. So this was the, last year was my first year of really diving into three rows, and you know, what’s one row versus three rows if they’re all the same? Well, to me it matters. There’s definitely differences, but definitely honing in on small seeded crops is what I’m gonna kind of work on. The planter’s not a, it’s not specifically a small seeded planter, but you’re definitely capable to do small seeds with it. So my goal is to kind of work more with, especially spinach, maybe at some other greens. I kind of wanna try some different brass ’cause direct seeded with the seeder. So that’s definitely something I’m gonna try to do some experimenting on and kinda hone some better skills with that. And then on the other side is working more with that no-till or limited-till system. I think we’re gonna experiment with some zone tilling maybe prior to planting certain things like squashes, for instance, pumpkins to maybe run through quickly with a zone tiller to break up that seed furrow area and then run through no-till with the planter and be able to plant into more of a maybe broken up seed bed instead of just crashing through residue. Unfortunately, with those crops, you don’t get multiple chances throughout the season. It’s kind of like a one-and-done deal. So, like, really keeping track, keeping notes, and then remembering your mess-ups and doing it right the next time.
Yeah, that’s so true, I mean, yeah. Pumpkins squash, you get one shot per year at trialing something.
And that, you know, I’ll say I’ve done multiple workshops and conferences and research on this, and I think it’s like, if you’re interested in the no-till limited-till thing, do your research first. You know, look at the different machines or implements out there to utilize it, and don’t just go buy something ’cause it looks cool. It’s like really, really look into it and figure out what’s gonna work. Talk to people, talk to other farmers that are doing it ’cause you’re investing in something huge. It’s not just a couple hundred bucks in the pocket. It’s thousands. So.
You’ve put a lotta upgrades on this unit since you purchased it. I mean, you added a whole ‘nother row unit. You’ve swapped out your closing wheels. Is there any other equipment changes that you think you wanna make or that you think Matermacc should redesign?
On the planter itself?
Hmm. Trying to think. You know, all in all, it’s a very flowable nice machine. I’ve noticed, you know, I probably do a little more with it than asked in, like, I guess, the scale of diversity with it, so changing out those Farmflex wheels I was talking back to like the regular V-shaped wheels take some time. The system that’s created for the, I’d like to see if Matermacc would come out with an actual, like, no-till version of that planter. I don’t know if there is one currently, ’cause I know mine’s custom, but maybe having a more sleek system to be able to deal with those implements on that planter, specifically, that takes the most time. You know, it’s really well-built. The parts on it weigh a decent amount. So when you’re switching things out, you know, you definitely kinda need an extra hand to do things. Some stuff’s difficult to do by yourself. Market Farm, and I won’t exploit them too much, but they’ve come up with some really unique tools to be able to lift units up and down, slide units back and forth, which makes that really awesome. The only thing I see is, like, that I find the biggest issue with is probably the fertilizer on the machine. I don’t, it’s a stainless steel hopper with a, I guess kinda geared system that rotates the fertilizer and puts it down poly chutes down into the coultered furrow area. That’s very meticulous. I guess more on my end when I’m switching hoses or going from two row to single row or three row, you really gotta have, you gotta know what you’re looking at, make sure things are working properly. It’s all gravity fed. And so dealing with that gravity fed and granular fertilizer, I should have said, I run into issues where the fertilizer isn’t coming down as much as it should. You know, your rates for acre might not be spot on if the chutes aren’t properly throwing the fertilizer down. So it’s really keeping up and making sure things are working as they should, checking things after a couple passes, making sure there’s fertilizer, making sure things aren’t clogged, but that’s probably the most difficult portion of the planter I’d say as a whole to deal with. Again, that’s more of an add on, I think, from the general planter, but on my aspect that’s a kin phrase difficulties. I mean, honestly, not to bode for myself, but like I would reference my YouTube video that I made a couple years ago ’cause it really, I’m sure yours has, too, but I really went step-by-step in this planter of what each little bit of this planter does because it’s, I mean, through voice right now, like, I can’t even explain, you know, all the different features of this thing without actually, you know, showing it in person, so it’s really, I think it’s unique and especially to the diversity of what the capabilities of the Matermacc is, so.
Well, is there anything else about this planter that you wanted to share that I didn’t bring up?
I would just all in all say it’s the Italians have built a very nice machine, well built, easy to use, easy to learn, amazing adjustments. And even though you’re working with, you know, European standards of, you know, millimeters and such is working with Market Farm, they’ve done a great job of transitioning everything over to American. So everything’s in inches. Things are in pounds. You know, that’s a little difficult because they don’t intertwine perfectly, but you can get close enough to what you’re looking at,
but it’s just, it’s amazing the different things you can do with this. It’s like, like, we didn’t talk much about seed plates, but you know, you can plant anything from probably five feet in row down to, I don’t know, a quarter inch in row, you know, depending, so it’s like just the multitude of different things you can do with it is, like, that’s, I can’t say enough about that, so. And the ease to just work with it day in and day out is nice. It’s not that frustrating once you learn how it works. And after four years, like I said, like, very, very minimal issues with the general usage of it as a whole. It does the job, you’re paying for a quality product, and you’re getting what you paid for.
Well, thanks, thanks for sharing your expertise. And in your review on this piece of equipment. If others wanna find and follow you, how can they do that?
We have a website You can find us on our YouTube page, also Bardwell Farm, which has that video on it, but we’re on Facebook. We’re on Instagram, and we’re on Twitter, primarily, posting what Bardwell Farm is and what we do every day.
Awesome. Well, thanks for being on the show.
Thanks for having me.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If I can ask you or direct you to do one thing, that is to go to the website for this podcast, That’s A-G-E-N-G-P-O-D-C-A-S-T dot com. There you’ll find the show notes. You’ll find links to the farmer who we chatted with today, as well as photos or videos from the call when I visited the farm. If you’ve got some feedback to share, my contact information’s on there or you can leave me a voicemail, and you can do that right from the link in the description in the mobile app you’re listening to this to. So go ahead and do that. Thanks again for listening, and I hope you have a great day.