Rather than cutting the grass with the seed head attached like a combine, Arbuckle's Native Seedster skips the separation process and just "plucks" the seed, Arbuckle said.
The plucking is accomplished with a simple spinning brush and combing drum. After harvest, the Seedster leaves the rest of the plant intact as forage and ground cover.
Arbuckle and his wife Maggie designed the Seedster to be easy to operate and quickly adaptable. In field tests, it has recovered a high percentage of seed and done well at controlling contamination from other seed.
The idea for a harvester came to Arbuckle five years ago when he got a particularly good crop of native grass seed on his third-generation family ranch near Alzada. The seed was valuable, but he didn't have an efficient way to harvest it.
At that point in his life, Arbuckle, and his wife Maggie, were in semi-retirement after having worked in Honduras with the United States Agency for International Development. Arbuckle has a degree in agricultural economics and an MBA. He has spent years working in agricultural and rural development overseas.
The couple never planned to spend five years building a harvester, but like a barbed needle-and-thread grass seed, once the idea got in their heads they couldn't pull it out.
They've had help from the USDA in the form of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, as well as the SBIR support program in Montana. They assembled a team to fast track their research and development, getting key help from design engineer Wade Wolf and grass scientist Brian Sindelar.
With a grant from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization, Arbuckle is also classifying native grass seeds by their harvest
Contact: Lee Arbuckle
Montana State University