Welcome to the World of Farming Equipment List for the Food Plot Manager

By Bill Winke

 When you lease or buy a piece of hunting land, your first inclination will be to hire someone to plant and maintain your food plots. It is a great plan. You won’t need to put in all the time, and you won’t have to buy all the equipment. Too bad that plan ultimately is likely to fail.
Here is how it will go: The first year might work out all right; the farmer will be enthusiastic, but after that, he will likely lose interest in all the small work that goes into a detailed deer management plan. Soon he will turn his focus to other projects that make him more money for his time, and your work will slide down his to-do list until it is at the bottom. You may still get him to do certain types of jobs, but it will on his schedule, not yours. It happens almost like clockwork; the only exception being if you are able to strike up a friendship with a farmer who is more or less retired, still has all the equipment, doesn’t live far away and will do your work as much for recreation as for the money. There aren’t many of these guys around. Eventually, if you are serious about your food plot program, you will find that you need to buy the equipment yourself. Then you can control when the work gets done. Planting and maintenance will happen at optimum times rather than just when it is convenient (usually after the optimum time). You will face a number of steep learning curves: which equipment to buy, how to run it, how to maintain it and what practices are required to produce the results you desire. Unfortunately, there is only one way to learn — dive right in. Welcome to the world of farming.


One important decision you will make pertains to tillage. You have a few options here — full tillage, minimum tillage and no-till. I suggest that you go the full tillage route for several reasons — not the least of which is the cost of a no-till drill which could well cost as much as your tractor. Additionally, when you till the ground, you eliminate the initial herbicide application (called a burn-down) that’s designed to kill existing vegetation. Burn-down adds about $25 per acre depending on how much herbicide you need to take down the stand of weeds. That’s not a big expense if you’re only doing two or three acres, but it adds up fast when you bump up the size of the operation. In my experience with food plot farming, tilled soil will also produce a better crop than untilled soil. Tilled soil warms up quicker to cause more complete seed germination. I’ve done it both ways — full-till and no-till — and fulltill has produced the best results. The improved production and money savings offset the extra time invested. There are many tradeoffs in the tillage decision including annual rainfall, soil types, etc., but you will rarely go wrong tilling the soil, especially when planting forage blends that include clover and alfalfa.

Other factors:

Sometimes it makes sense to open up a new field using no-till practices. That allows you to get a good weed and grass kill the first year before planting and then you can come back and till the soil in subsequent years. Some slopes are simply too steep to permit tillage as a sound soil conservation practice. If the land you are setting aside for food plots is subject to erosion, you should use a no-till solution whenever possible, even if that means hiring someone else to plant that ground. Also, if you’re planting food plots on CRP acres (regulations permit you to plant up to 10 percent of your total contract acres in food plots), agents from the county office will dictate the practice you must follow when you change your conservation plan to include food plots. On certain slopes they will likely restrict you to only no-till planting.

Tillage decision vs. equipment needs:

There is no question that having the no-till equipment gives you the most flexibility because you can also use the same tools for full tillage planting. If you plan to go this no-till route, get your checkbook out; you will need a no-till drill. They are very expensive, even when you buy used equipment. For example, a new 7-foot drill that you can pull with a small tractor will cost at least $12,000. A decent used model will likely cost about half that amount. So, if you are trying to do this on a moderate budget, forget about the no-till equipment for now and focus on tillage solutions.


In this section, I’m going to detail the most basic tasks you will need equipment to perform. First, you may want to kill weeds before you plant or till and sometimes after plot establishment. That means you need a sprayer of some kind. A good sprayer is a very important piece of equipment, and you don’t want to skimp here because you will use it a fair amount. One of the local farmer’s co-ops where I live will come and spray even small food plots, but they charge by the hour rather than by the acre. If you have more than a couple of acres to do, this might be a good option. It will save you time over the long haul and money over the short haul. Again, you give up some control of timing; however, most co-ops have proven fairly responsive to this kind of request because they have trucks out all the time spraying for commercial farmers. You will only run into timing snags if you have a specialty job that doesn’t fall into one of their normal chemical mixes. For example, if you want to apply a grass herbicide to your legume plot, you may have to wait a while. Second, you will need some kind of tillage equipment. The most basic piece of tillage equipment is a simple disk appropriately sized to fit behind your tractor or ATV. Deep tillage equipment is nice but you can add that to the list later. A simple disk will get you started. Third, keeping with the basics theme, you need something to apply your seeds to the ground. The most basic approach is to simply buy a seed spreader for your ATV or tractor’s power take-off drive and then devise a system for incorporating the seed into the ground to assure good seed-to-soil contact for complete germination. For this kind of incorporation, I have used everything from pulling a piece of cattle panel fencing weighted with a log behind an ATV to a cultipacker that presses the seeds into the ground. If you aren’t drilling the seed into the ground, you need some method for creating the needed soil compaction required before and after seeding. Don’t be temped just to spread the seed on top of the ground ahead of a rain and hope for the best. You may get decent germination if it stays wet for several days, but this is far from optimal. You need to compact the soil, then lightly drag or use a cultipacker to insure good seed-to-soil contact, especially with products such as Imperial Whitetail Clover, Chicory Plus, Extreme and Alfa-Rack Plus. Next, you will need a brush-hog to mow and maintain your perennial plots and to control areas of brush that you want to convert to food plots. It is very hard to do this work with an ATV, though there are ATV-mounted mowers that are effective. It takes a stout mower to handle the rough work you will ultimately require from your mower/brush-hog. Fertilizing the soil is the final task that you will have to perform, no matter what you plant or how you plant it. The easiest way to fertilize your plots is to go to the local fertilizer/ seed co-op and rent a fertilizer cart already filled with the fertilizer blend you need for the planting. This is standard practice at most co-ops. The second option is to buy a rear-mount fertilizer spreader for your tractor or ATV (obviously larger for your tractor). This permits you to handle the job more easily if you are doing only a few acres and don’t mind buying the fertilizer in bags and applying it yourself. The size of the job should dictate your equipment choice in this matter.


If you only plan to plant a few small plots, one to three acres total, it doesn’t make sense to buy farm equipment. You should be able to hire your neighbor to do most of the real work for you. However, as mentioned in the introduction, you will find that your work will take second priority to his other farming practices. If the weather permits only a small planting window, you will often lose out. Additionally, you will need some equipment to maintain your plots. No matter how you look at this, you are either going to have to borrow or buy some equipment eventually. I know one group of deer hunters who manage 800 acres in southern Indiana. They conduct their entire food plot program, with the exception of selected large plots, with an ATV. ATV-mounted accessories have been improving every year, and they are now good enough to present a viable option for the small-acreage food plot farmer. Because these products have only been on the market for a few years, there isn’t much used equipment available, so you will likely have to buy new equipment. If you want to go with something more substantial than the ATV implements, you will need only a few small pieces of junior-sized farm equipment. Here is what you will need:

ATV-mounted system: (all prices approximate)
• Sprayer with 10-foot boom: $300 to $700
• 60-pound capacity spreader: $150 to $250
• 4 to 5-foot food plot disk: $700 to $900
• Plot mower: $2,500 to $4,000

Small tractor system: (prices based on used equipment on auction)
• Tractor (25 to 50hp): $3,000 and up
• 5 to 8–foot disk: $500 to $900
• -PTO spreader 300 to 900 lb capacity — NEW $350 to $450
• 4 to 5-foot brush-hog mower: $500 to $1,000

GOING BIG Big is a relative term. No pure food plot operation can be properly termed “big” when compared to commercial farming ventures. I call it big if you have more than five acres of food plots. At some auctions, the small tractors and implements bring top dollar because there are now so many hobby farmers. Here’s a realistic equipment list and what you can expect to pay at auctions:

• Larger utility tractor (50 to 80 hp): $5,000 and up
• 6 to 10-foot light-duty disk: $500 - $1,000
• 6 to 8-foot brush-hog mower: $600 to $1,200
• PTO-driven 18 to 21-foot boom, 110 gallon sprayer: $400 and up
• PTO-driven spreader: 3-point hitch 300 to 900 pound cap: $350 to $450 (New)


For about $4,500, you can buy ATV implements to handle small plot work, and for about $10,000, you can buy what you need to handle everything else. The best situation occurs if you can pool your resources with a neighbor who is also planting food plots for deer. You will have similar requirements and can split the cost. Here are the two primary places where you can buy the equipment you need.

Auctions: I enjoy going to farm auctions. They are great social events in rural America. It is fun to talk to farmers, to eat chilidogs, bid on few things and watch the to-and-fro of the auctioneer. However, there is also a more tangible reason to go to auctions. In my experience, they are definitely the cheapest source of real equipment, but there is always a risk when you buy “as is.” When you buy cheap, the piece you are bidding on may actually be worn out. If there are a bunch of farmers standing around watching you buy something cheap, you can almost bank on the fact that you will be putting a whole lot more money into that piece of equipment before you are done. Auctions are the ultimate in capitalism in action. You may sometimes get a great price, but the result of the experience definitely epitomizes the statement, “Let the buyer beware.” Take someone with you who knows how to size-up equipment to help you buy quality. There are always a few warning signs when buying any piece of equipment: bearings, worn parts that signal other possible problems, oil leaks, a certain noise, etc. A kick here and push there will tell volumes to someone who knows what they are doing. Every piece of equipment has wear points and problem areas. A friend who has bought and sold farm equipment a few times is worth the price of a few auction lunches and maybe even a finder’s fee. If you can’t find someone to go with you to the auction, ask a local farmer about the problem areas with the pieces of equipment you are looking to buy. He will likely tell you exactly how to spot a problem piece before you buy it. In the end, you will likely have to attend several auctions to gather the pieces you want at good prices. For example, I wanted to buy a 125-hp tractor for the large farm I was managing at the time. I attended three auctions that advertised the model I wanted before I found a good one with medium hours that fit the budget. I saved about $3,500 from what that same tractor would have cost from a dealer. That ended up being about a 15 percent savings.

Implement dealer: Most implement dealers will sell both new and used equipment. Of course, you will get the very best gear if you buy new, and you will also get a great warranty. However, if you are working on a limited budget, new equipment may just be too expensive. When you buy used from an implement dealer, you save yourself the time of attending numerous auctions; and if you are lucky, you will get some assurances that the piece you are buying is quality. Try to get a warranty of some kind from the dealer. If he insists that the only terms are “as is,” you are no better off than if you bought the same piece on auction where you would likely pay less. When buying ATV implements, you will need to go through a specialty retailer such as an ATV shop or directly through the Internet. Buying the equipment needed to plant your own food plots is a very good idea if your requirements exceed a few acres. In the end, you will get much better results and you will gain a sense of accomplishment and pride in your farming efforts. It adds yet another dimension to your role as steward of the land. 

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