High-rise highboy goes to extreme for cover crop project

Adapted equipment offers alternative to aerial seeding and spraying

Farmers and conservation staff are dwarfed by a specially adapted highboy developed to work over standing corn.
Farmers and conservation staff are dwarfed by a specially adapted highboy developed to work over standing corn.
Published on: Jul 22, 2010
Don and Matt Birky’s unique highboy with 10 feet and six inches of clearance could attract a crowd for its high-rising maneuvers, but the father-son team created the special equipment for a tough job.

The highboy, dubbed High Roller, was developed to air seed legumes and other cover crops into standing corn in August. The Birkys, who operate On Track Farming Inc. in rural Gibson City, put the highboy through its paces last week.

The highboy was adapted to custom plant cover crops for a Central Illinois project offered through Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD). The goal is to increase acres planted with cover crops by providing farmers with technical expertise and cost-share funding.
Developer Matt Birky points out a feature on the special highboy that has clearance of 10 feet, six inches.
Developer Matt Birky points out a feature on the special highboy that has clearance of 10 feet, six inches.

With 3,200 acres enrolled in 10 counties, participation has surpassed the original goal of 2,000 to 2,500 acres, said Dave Bishop, resource conservationist with McLean County SWCD.

“These are cover crops for the 21st century,” Bishop said.

The adapted highboy not only will help seed cover crops into standing corn, but also will address special conditions in some fields, according to Bishop.

“You can fly it (cover crop seed) on, but there’s getting to be so many places in the county that you can’t fly on seed with wind turbines (located in fields),” Bishop said. “This (highboy) is practical and moves easily from place to place.”

The Birkys adapted a four-wheel Ag-Chem RoGator with uniquely designed legs for which they have applied for a patent, Don Birky explained.

The 60-foot wide boom has 30-inch center nozzles and the air pressure will blast seed at 80 mph. Birky noted the air-seeding machine will provide even coverage over the width of the boom.

The highboy also has been outfitted with special features to move through standing corn. It has an automatic steering mechanism and a camera mounted underneath that sends images to a nine-inch screen inside the cab.

Birky explained he and Matt learned from past experience it can be difficult to see where rows are when driving through tall crops and will be even more difficult seated high above standing corn.

“The wind really moves the corn around. You can’t tell where the rows are,” Birky said.

The highboy also has two sets of light bars that will tell the operator where to turn on end rows and will point the exact rows for the return trip through the field, he added.

SWCD’s Bishop said he hopes to collect data during the project, including measuring how much seed gets caught in the corn whorl.

The Birkys not only adapted the highboy for the cover crop project, but they also are participating in it. They will seed 300 acres of corn with a mixture of hairy vetch, red clover, and radishes to increase the field’s nitrogen levels, Birky said.

The cover crop project is attracting attention outside of Central Illinois. After the morning demonstration for local farmers, a group of Clinton County farmers, who have talked about working on a similar project, was expected for an afternoon demonstration of the special highboy.

However seeding cover crops may not be the only use for the Birkys’ high-rise high boy.

“We’ve had incredible interest to put the (hydraulic) legs on a liquid (highboy) machine to spray on fungicide,” Birky said.