Talk to any farmer and most likely you'll find an engineer at heart. If you're thinking about modifying equipment or building something from scratch, who better to design it than the person who operates it.

These three farmers we're featuring have taken rudimentary ideas and spun them into workable, functional machinery … and all on a Spartan budget.

Shop-Built Sidedress Applicator

Jim Call is a big believer in spoon-feeding fertilizer, not broadcasting it wastefully over an entire field. That's why he's such an evangelist for sidedressing 28% nitrogen in the spring.

For years, his setup was straightforward — sidedress and cultivate at the same time. The problem is that with today's more effective weed-fighting herbicides, cultivating wasn't necessary. Using the cultivator was also an inefficient, time-consuming way to apply 28% nitrogen.

He knew things had to change, and change they did.

During the winter of 2002 he and son Justin holed up in the shop and built their own 12-row sidedress applicator for less than $2,000. A spanking new unit would have run close to $10,000, says Call, who also does some fall fertilizing because he can't get it all applied fast enough in the spring.

“I looked at new equipment and knew I couldn't afford it,” says Call, who grows about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Madison in west-central Minnesota. “We've got too many acres to keep using a cultivator. With this unit, we can fly through the field.”

The Calls used an old anhydrous bar and added hydraulic cylinders to raise the wings. Stands were added for support during storage. They also bought 12 used Yetter fertilizer applicator coulters and mounted them on rectangular tubing. They also attached two hard rubber gauge wheels to keep the unit going straight in the field.

Two 160-gal. saddle tanks are mounted on the tractor. Call already had the tanks. “Eventually, I'd like to add automatic flow controls that change as you speed up and slow down in the field,” Call says.

The Calls have also added two additional gauge wheels on the end of the unit for more consistent shank depth control. “It rocked a little too much and depth didn't stay consistent in the ditches and draws,” he says.

Coulters run about 6 in. on either side of 30-in. rows and Call says that's as close as he can safely run at 6-7 mph.

Call paid about $1,000 for the used coulters, $400 for the bar, $200 for two extra gauge wheels and about $200 for cylinders and hoses.

Handy Starter-Fertilizer Cart

Todd Cole says, “It's all about managing nitrogen these days.” Cole, of Clarkfield, MN, grows 1,050 acres of corn, soybeans and sugar beets. “It's the key to higher yields.”

With that philosophy, Cole was off and running two years ago when he built an inexpensive and practical implement that adds starter fertilizer (10-34-0) at planting. His solution: Convert an old 500-gal. sprayer into a homemade fertilizer cart to pull behind the planter.

“I didn't want to run saddle tanks because they'd obstruct my view too much,” Cole explains. “And I didn't want to mount tanks on the planter because of the extra weight. Plus, they just wouldn't fit well.”

Cole paid $220 for the old sprayer, sans booms, five years ago and parked it in the grove, knowing he'd have a use for it someday. For $400 he added a 12-volt low-pressure electric pump and plumbed in 1-in. lines that run from the tank to the rear of the planter where a 1/4-in. down-line places fertilizer into each individual row.

A local machine shop then built a 6-ft. extension hitch on the back of his 12-row, 22-in. row White planter — another $450. He added a pressure gauge along with a toggle switch in the cab to turn the fertilizer off and on. Total cost for the unit, not counting his labor, ran about $1,070.

“The fertilizer cart places the starter directly on top of the seed, right in the row,” Cole says. “So far, the cart has been very functional and the starter sure helps the crop pop out of the ground faster. I hope it's helping with yield, too. University studies sure support it.”

Cut-Rate Fertilizer/Seed Tender

Talk about spinning straw into gold and you're describing how Doug Tonsager took an old New Holland bale wagon and turned it into a near perfect 160-bu. seed tender. He's even used it as a dry fertilizer cart to apply starter with his former planter.

The Oldham, SD, farmer took a 35-year-old gravity box and mounted it on an old New Holland model 1010 bale wagon. He removed the rear load rack, the backstop table that provides the unloading platform, and welded the front pickup table solid.

He then mounted a 5 hp Briggs and Stratton gas engine with a gear reduction drive to the front platform. That motor runs hydraulics for the 6-in. × 14-ft long cupped-flighting unloading auger. He especially likes the 6-ft.-wide front platform to carry extra bags of seed in case his bulk seed runs out.

“With the 160-bu. tank I'm able to dump four big 40-bu. bulk seed bags at once, which is usually enough for a day's worth of planting,” says Tonsager, who also added a roll-top tarp to the tender.

To compensate for the heavier weight of seed and fertilizer compared to bales, he's added an extra set of wheels to the front of the wagon. “I can pull it with my pickup, park it in the field and drive away,” he says.

The only refinement he sees down the road is to convert to a belt conveyor to help eliminate breaking beans. For now, he says the tender works well as is. “I even use it for winter wheat and oats,” he says.

Total cost for the tender comes in at about $1,000, mostly for the auger and engine. He already owned the box and wagon and picked up the spindles for the extra set of wheels at a salvage yard.