By Mark Kenyon

I’m a young guy, living on a tight budget, but over the past few years I’ve been planting food plots despite that, with very little equipment. To get my plots in, I’ve had to get creative with the gear I have, and then also on occasion beg for help from friends with bigger toys. None-the-less, I’ve always gotten my plots planted, and enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

Many folks look at the equipment needed to plant food plots as the major hurdle to clear before ever trying them, and unfortunately many people never get started because they are either intimidated by the gear needed or concerned they can’t afford it.That said, today I wanted to walk through the equipment I’ve used in the past and the newer equipment I’m using today which has allowed me to in fact plant food plots on a pretty small budget and see great success doing so.

Shoe String Budget

When I originally began planting food plots I was fresh out of college, and my available income for hunting expenses was minuscule. That said, I still wanted to dip my toes into the food plotting game. If you’re new to food plots, I would recommend you take the same toe dipping approach to start. Don’t feel like you need to all of a sudden plant 10 acres of plots in your first year. My first plot wasn’t even a half acre, but it was a nice little hunting plot and it helped me understand the basics of this whole deal.

To plant this first plot, I used just a few very basic tools that cost very little. 

Backpack Sprayer: The most important tool to get any food plot project started is probably a sprayer, as you’ll need to spray some kind of weed kill to eliminate the current vegetation where you want to plant your plot. I bought a basic backpack sprayer from Tractor Supply for around $40 I believe, and that has lasted me around four years and has been a part of numerous food plot projects. I then just mixed water and Round Up to spray on my small plot area.

Push Rototiller: To turn up the ground I actually borrowed a garden push rototiller from a family member. A push rototiller will work for small food plots, but it’s certainly not the most effective or quickest option. If you’re on a shoe string budget (like I was) though, this can get you started. Many large hardware stores like Home Depot have these for rent by the day at a relatively low price – maybe $75 or so. If you still can’t make that happen, in some areas you can even get away with just killing off the weeds and raking up the soil with a good steel rake. Again, for small plots like this, as long as you can eliminate competing vegetation and expose some soil, you can probably get away with it.

Hand Spreader: To spread my fertilizer and seed I used a $10 plastic hand spreader from Tractor Supply as well. It’s as simple as dumping in the seed, adjusting the setting for how fast it disperses the seed, and then walking up and down the food plot cranking away.

With just these three basic tools, I was able to get a small hunting plot planted on my first try and I spent less than $200 (not including a small bag of seed from Whitetail Institute and fertilizer – which added maybe another $30)

Middle of the Road Budget

Now after doing that for a year or two, I moved to a new area and my food plot ambitions grew a size or two as well. For the next few years I actually paid a couple friends of mine with small tractors or ATVs to come in a couple times a year and help me with the basic tasks of food plot preparation. This ended up costing me around $300-$450 a year, but it was also pretty inconvenient as I was always at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, etc. So with that in mind, I began saving money, and just a few weeks ago I made a few purchases to upgrade my food plot planting arsenal. I’m still far from using big fancy farm equipment, but I’m now much better suited for planting decent sized food plots. Here’s what I’m working with now.

Used Polaris Sportsman ATV: The biggest piece of my new equipment is an ATV. I searched numerous dealers and Craigslist for the better part of 6 months until I finally found the right ATV at the right price. I ended up buying a 2010 Sportsman 500 for a really good price, less than $4000 due to some small aesthetic damage. That said, it’s a perfectly functioning machine that is just right for most food plot jobs. The ATV will allow me to transport materials needed, pull a disc, and use an ATV sprayer to more quickly work my land. $3-4K is definitely not pocket change, but compared to a $15,000 tractor this is much more budget friendly and workable ATVs can be found for even less if needed. I know this investment will last me a long time, and pay off for years to come.

ATV Sprayer: As mentioned above, a big perk to getting the ATV was that I could now use a much larger and faster dispersing sprayer that rides on the back of my 4-wheeler. I ended up purchasing a 26 gallon Northstar boomless broadcast sprayer on Amazon for around $179. With this I can fill up at home with water and Round Up, and then quickly run the ATV over all of my plots while spraying, and be done in almost no time.

ATV Disc: To pair with my new sprayer I purchased an ATV disc to work up the soil in my plots. Again, I have been trying to be budget conscious and I didn’t really want to spend another $1200 or so to buy a pull behind disc or other implement. While on the hunt for something a little more affordable I ran across a product called the Groundhog Max. This is a small disc built for use on ATVs, which actually mounts directly beneath your hitch and uses the ATV and passenger weight to drive the disc into the ground. Based on the user videos and reviews I found online, it looked like it would work pretty well and the price was right too! For less than $400 I got the Groundhog Max, and after using it last weekend I can confirm that it works pretty nicely (more to come in a full review).

Hand Spreader: While I’ve got a new ATV/sprayer/disc, I’m still using a basic hand spreader to get my fertilizer and seed in the ground – but I am looking to upgrade. My main issue with the $10 plastic version is that the gears often get caught up with seed and will no longer turn easily. There are a few other options available out there in the $30-50 range that I’ll probably be checking out soon.

With my new equipment I’m now able to work my three acres of food plots all on my own, in a pretty quick and efficient manner, all for less than $5000. Hopefully that investment will pay off over many long years of food plotting in the future.

So if you’re looking to get started planting food plots, don’t let equipment put the brakes on your plans. Start small and realize that you’ll need to work hard – but most importantly, remember that the first and most important step is just deciding to give it a shot. I’ve personally been able start planting small hunting plots with less than $200 in equipment, and have now moved up to a much more effective system for planting larger acreage with less than a $5000 investment. If these options still don’t work for you, it can’t hurt to ask a friend for help too!

No matter what kind of equipment you decide to use, my hope is that you still give food plots a try. Once you get a little dirt under your finger nails and see the fruits of your labor sprout up and be eaten by the local deer, I know you’ll be glad you did.