In the Shop
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.
48-Row Planter: The Daisy-Chain Effect
Apr 14, 2009
A prototype 48-row planter is running in our territory this spring. I spent a day or two last week getting it ready for the field. Aside from being tired and leg-weary from simply walking back and forth and around the mega-machine, I was struck by the unexpected challenges that complicate things when farmers move to bigger or more high-tech equipment. For example:
-The 48-row planter uses multiple hydraulic motors to drive the seed units, along with multiple hydraulic motors to run the vacuum system. There's also a hydraulic motor to drive the fan that pressurizes the seed hoppers. Add the requirements of all the hydraulic cylinders required to simply raise and lower the 120-foot wide beast on the end rows, and it takes a hefty hydraulic system on the tractor to make it work. We've learned that many older tractors built before 2000 don't have the hydraulic capacity to keep up with even 16-row planters, especially if those planters use hydraulic seed drive systems (variable rate drives).
-Modern tractor cabs often look like Mission Control with all the consoles and displays required to control and monitor various high-tech systems. Seed population monitors, starter fertilizer controllers, frame-fold control boxes, GPS/Auto steer displays and processors, variable-pressure down-pressure controllers, rear-view cameras, variable-height row cleaner controllers--not to mention the all-important cell phone chargers, FM business and CB radios, and satellite radio receivers--all put an extra load on tractor electrical systems. Then there' s the potential for strange electrical fields generated by the bird's nest of wiring harnesses and cables crammed beside and behind the seat. Things can get interesting if the GPS/autosteer system gets confused and starts using signals from the satellite radio to steer the tractor through the field, especially if the hired man is listening to Metallica's live version of "Enter Sandman" to stay awake while he plants during the midnight shift.
-Huge equipment forces farmers to rethink basic logistics of field operation. The farmer who will run the 48-row planter anticipates running after dark to deal with our late, cool, wet spring. He found that his tractor's field lights don't adequately illuminate the ends of the planter. That's no problem while planting the body of his fields because he'll use GPS/autosteer for guidance. But keeping the end of the planter out of fences and ditches when outlining fields has him concerned, so he's outfitting floodlights on both ends of the tool bar. One of the surprises was how much wire it takes to run from the power supply at the center of the planter, with extra wire at the hinge points, out to those two floodlamps at the ends of each wing. Will the extra resistance of all that wiring overload the planter's lighting system? Time, and the first night of planting after dark, will tell.
That's the way it goes when upgrading to bigger or more complicated equipment. Maybe it's relative. I remember Dad complaining about the extra hassle of having to unhook the simple one-wire connector for the Dickey-John seed monitor on the 6-row planter he bought back in the late '60's. I wonder what he would think of the snarl of more than 20 hydraulic hoses and wiring harnesses that have to be deciphered every time the 48-row planter is hooked to its tractor?
Here are the hoses and harnesses required for that 48-row planter. This particular unit has some extra bells and whistles that add an extra half dozen cables and connectors, but the picture makes the point that it can take a lot of hydraulic capacity and a potent alternator to power modern equipment.