Broadcast spreaders and planters

Broadcast Spreader

A broadcast seeder, alternately called a broadcast spreader, is a farm implement commonly used for spreading seed, lime, fertilizer, sand, ice melt, etc., and is an alternative to drop spreaders/seeders.


Broadcast seeders/spreaders can be roughly divided into three groups. The smallest of the broadcast seeders/spreaders can be carried or pushed while spreading seed or fertilizer. The next size up is designed to be towed behind a garden tractor or ATV. Very similar in size to the tow behind units are broadcast seeders that mount to the three-point hitch of a compact utility tractor, these are ideal for landscape and small property maintenance. The largest size units are commercial broadcast seeders/spreaders designed and sized appropriately for agricultural tractors and mount to the tractor’s 3pt hitch. The broadcast seeders that are mounted to a 3pt hitch are powered by a power take-off (P.T.O.) shaft from the tractor.

How they work

The basic operating concept of broadcast spreads is simple. A large material hopper is positioned over a horizontal spinning disk, the disk has a series of 3 or 4 fins attached to it which throw the dropped materials from the hopper out and away from the seeder/spreader. Alternately a pendulum spreading mechanism may be employed, this method is more common in large commercial spreaders. The photos clearly show the material hopper, these hoppers are commonly made of plastic, painted steel or galvanized steel.

Some seeders/spreaders have directional fins to control the direction of the material that is thrown from the spreader. All broadcast spreaders require some form of power to spin the disk. On hand carried units, a hand crank spins gears to turn the disk. On tow behind units, the wheels spin a shaft that turns gears which, in turn, spin the disk. As is partially visible in one of the photos, with tractor mounted units, a mechanical P.T.O. shaft connected to the tractor and controlled by the tractor operator, spins the disk. There are some seeder/spreaders made for garden size tractors that use a 12 volt motor to spin the dispersing disk.

Planter (farm implement)

Like a grain drill a planter is an agricultural farm implement towed behind a tractor, used for sowing crops through a field. It is connected to the tractor with a draw-bar, or a three-point hitch. Planters lay the seed down in precise manner along rows. Seeds are distributed through devices called row units. The row units are spaced evenly along the planter. Planters vary greatly in size, from 2 rows to 48, with the biggest in the world being the 48-row John Deere DB120. The space between the row units also vary greatly. The most common row spacing in the United States today is 30 inches.

On smaller and older planters, a marker extends out to the side half the width of the planter and creates a line in the field where the tractor should be centered for the next pass. The marker is usually a single disc harrow disc on a rod on each side of the planter. On larger and more modern planters, GPS navigation and auto-steer systems for the tractor are often used, eliminating the need for the marker. Some precision farming equipment such as Case IH AFS uses GPS/RKS and computer controlled planter to sow seeds to precise position accurate within 2 cm. In irregular shaped field, the precision farming equipment will automatically hold the seed release over area already sewn when the tractor has to run overlapping pattern to avoid obstacles such as trees.

Older planters commonly have a seed bin for each row and a fertilizer bin for two or more rows. In each seed bin plates are installed with a certain number of teeth and tooth spacing according to the type of seed to be sown and the rate at which the seeds are to be sown. The tooth size (actually the size of the space between the teeth) is just big enough to allow one seed in at a time but not big enough for two. Modern planters often have a large bin for seeds that are distributed to each row.