A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Jason Birdsong became increasingly dissatisfied with the seed loss and inability to control seed populations with his Allis-Chalmers planter. Although he preferred the 333 plate-type no-till planter because of its unfailing ability to penetrate the ground, he couldn't deny the inefficiency.

“I want everything just right. We're on a tight budget but didn't want to leave this planter. This planter will plant,” Birdsong says.

In fact, Birdsong learned the planter can penetrate too deep, causing stand issues on rolling, unlevel ground.

The Birdsongs farm approximately 600 acres of land, which is broken into different-sized sections, from 2 to 100 acres. The ground is heavy clay to silt loam and runs through rolling hills and river bottoms of Prospect, TN, in south-central Tennessee.

AFTER PRICING PLANTERS, Birdsong decided to build his own. With his father Tommy Birdsong, the pair spent two months working intermittently on the project. He credits the original design to his neighbor, Paul Allen. “Paul is a genius. He built one for himself and we added to the original design.” Birdsong pulled Allen's late-1960s Allis-Chalmer's frame from the weeds and began working.

Birdsong and his father customized the planter in several ways. They added a residue bar at the front that turns corn stalks one way to avoid getting caught in the planter. Two safety bars were added on either side, and a wooden walking plank runs the length of the planter. “Instead of having to stand over the hopper and fill it, I can back my truck up to the walking board, unload the seed and pour it in from the top.” Birdsong says the walking board makes a convenient place to hold seed bags when in remote places with no one to bring more seed.

THE PLANTER IS configured only for soybeans planted on 19-in. rows. Because cotton was the farm's major cash crop, all equipment is set up on 38 in., including the corn planter. “If cotton continues to phase out, we will convert to narrow-row corn, maybe even 19 in. with this planter,” says Birdsong.

The planter cost approximately $8,000 and uses parts from Allis-Chalmers, John Deere, International and Kinze: a toolbar and planting units from a John Deere 7100, a John Deere transmission, International markers and a hopper and bean meter from Kinze.

The Birdsongs initially tried a John Deere feed cup meter, but still couldn't control the seed.

The planter's drive wheel is mounted at the mid-section with an aggressive-tread tire filled with liquid ballast for weight to prevent slippage.

One downside for anyone who needs to move equipment between farms is the size. “It's 18 ft. wide, which makes it difficult in situations with traffic,” says Birdsong.

The payoff for approximately two months of intermittent work has been significant.

Planting seed size ranging from 2,410 to 3,750 seeds/lb., Birdsong now sees up to five plants per foot. “I now expect to save one-third with this planter. I also expect to gain yield because of the singulation of the seed and the controlled population.”

The Birdsongs painted the planter the trademark John Deere green only because time ran short. “We would have liked to have painted each part the manufacturer's color. Then, you would have never seen another one like it.”