Gail Oberst/For the Capital Press
SUVER, Ore. — If necessity is the mother of invention, then Garth Mulkey is its great-great grandson. Mulkey is a fourth-generation seed grower who farms nearly 1,000 acres south of Monmouth.
Because Mulkey uses “no-till” practices on most of his land he’s had to design special machinery to address his needs.
His most recent “invention” is a no-till attachment designed to ease the planting of vegetable seedlings into un-worked soil.
Mulkey, with help in the shop from August Hoffmann, designed and built an additional toolbar that bolts onto the front of his C&M-brand transplanter. The toolbar carries row cleaners, a no-till coulter, and a shank — all of which clear last year’s straw and cut a shallow trench in the soil for the seedlings. Workers riding on the unmodified portion of the transplanter place the plugs into a carousel that drops the seedlings into a boot and sends them down to the prepared soil. A pair of closing wheels then firm the soil around the seedling’s roots.
This winter, Mulkey and Hoffmann put the final touches on the modified transplanter, with plans to use it planting about 50 acres of vegetable seed crops in March or April.
There is an advantage to planting seedlings with this transplanter: Mulkey said he can plant sooner and he doesn’t have to wait for multiple dry days during a time of year when there are few. He’s been transplanting some of his land for years, but most machinery is not adapted to no-till agriculture, which means he’s had to work the ground in preparation for transplanting. He’s hoping to change that with this new attachment.
Currently, about 20 percent of the land he works is in vegetable seed crops; about 100 acres is in meadowfoam, for oil. The rest is in grass seed, wheat, and legumes, not counting a 25-acre plot of young hazelnuts.
The transplanter attachment is one of his biggest design projects yet, Mulkey said.
Mulkey has some reason to be confident that this design will work. Since they began no-till agriculture 23 years ago, he and his late father, Gylan, had modified a handful of other machines to work on no-till soils, from a self-propelled air seeder, to balloon-tired sprayers that don’t compact the soil. Mulkey has some formal training in design, graduating with an associate’s degree in manufacturing technology from Linn-Benton Community College. He worked as a machinist for about 10 years before he came back to the farm, married Susan, and they raised three children.
Nearly 30 years later, a grandfather with one teen left at home, he continues to design and redesign machines that make his farm more profitable and efficient, with longevity as one indicator of success.
Some of Mulkey’s seed is marketed through his family’s company, GS3 Quality Seed Inc. GS3 specializes in cover crops that add benefits to the soil including clover, radish, peas and ryegrass. A new crop offered this year, SuperBee Phacelia, has an added bonus. In addition to building soil, the beautiful purple-blue flowers host beneficial insects including bees and other insects that reduce harmful pests, including nematodes.
For more information about Mulkey’s no-till practices and his seed company, visit http://www.tilthpro.com, or call the company, 855-723-4741.