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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Words I'll Probably Regret: Equipment Can't Get Much Larger

Jan 04, 2013

One of our customers stopped by the shop today to check on my progress toward prepping the 16-row combine he'll use to harvest crops this fall. He plants with a 48-row planter, sprays with a 120-foot-wide sprayer, and said he'd be interested in larger equipment, but has doubts if it will be physically possible to build equipment much bigger than today's largest units.

Considering how quickly farm equipment exploded in size over the last decade, that's a risky statement. But there comes a point where no matter how many times you design a piece of equipment to fold, there's a limit to how long, how wide and how heavy things can get. The backbones on 48-row planters are already "sway-backed" in transport position despite extensive internal and external gusseting--going much wider is going to take a major re-thinking of basic frame design. Add the complications of getting around corners on rural roads and into field entrances, and it would seem there's a physical limit to how big farm equipment can get and still be practical.

An engineer with one of the major manufacturers once told me that to increase acres per hour, if you can't go wider, then you have to go faster. One planter manufacturer touts their planter will plant accurately at more than 7 mph. Autosteer and guidance systems now make guiding sprayers precisely at 15 to 20 mph a viable option. Corn and grain heads are being designed to harvest at more than 7 mph under optimum conditions. Heck, one of our customers with a self-propelled sprayer complained last season that when he turned on endrows the dirt being slung off the SIDES of his tires was knocking down two extra rows of corn at the apex of the turns. Come to find out, he was turning at more than 10 mph and his tires were literally throwing roostertails of dirt that were knocking down corn.

It's going to be very interesting to see how equipment manufacturers meet the demand for more acres per hour. Maybe they'll go wider. Maybe they'll go faster. Maybe the next generation of farm equipment will be wider AND faster.

So--I should be cautious before I go out on a limb and predict that farm equipment won't get much larger. Somebody always figures out a way to overcome engineering obstacles. If somebody conquers the engineering challenges and comes out with a 150-foot-wide planter or sprayer, or creates a 24-row, 30-inch cornhead, I'll concede that on January 4, 2013, I was wrong to suggest farm equipment won't get much bigger. It won't be any big deal---I've had lots of practice admitting I was wrong.

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