Earlier this spring I mentioned there was a prototype 48-row planter running in our territory. The 120-foot wide machine drew a lot of attention and provided some interesting points to ponder:
The farmer who ran it says he averaged 80 acres an hour when he was actually planting. Folding, unfolding, filling, and transporting took a lot of time, so he averaged 500 to 700 acres per day over the entire planting season. The big planter was most at home in big fields--he noted that in fields of 80 acres or less, he spent as much time fussing with endrows and corners as he did planting the body of the fields. In 40- to 60-acre fields with irregular borders, he admitted that he may have lost time due to the sheer size of the planter.
Another interesting comment the farmer made was that he had to pre-plan his movements between fields to accommodate the turning radius of the big planter. He farms in several counties, and noted that one county's rural roads tended to have tight, sharp corners at gravel road intersections, while another county had intersections with larger radiuses. There were several times when he had to go "the long way around" to get from Field A to Field B, simply because scouting had proved the most direct route had corners the planter simply couldn't turn without putting the tractor or planter in the ditch.
One thing the farmer noted was that if he chooses to buy a 48-row planter in the future, he will have to rethink the way he chooses and distributes seed varieties. "You loose a lot of the advantages of such a big planter if you can't just fill the seed tanks and plant," he said. "I'd have to figure out half a dozen good hybrids, and cut back on switching varieties so often."
The farmer also had to rebuild several of his field driveways, making them wider and flattening them. Driveways into fields lower than the road were the biggest concern---the mid-section of the planter would drag on the shoulder of the road if the angle of the driveway into the field was too steep.
Ultimately, the farmer was satisfied with his experience. He commented that after a wet spell, the big machine and 24-hour days allowed him to get his planting finished on schedule. There were a few breakdowns, as might be expected from a prototype, and there was a steep learning curve the first few days as the farmer and his crew scrambled to adjust their logistics to keep seed to the planter and ground worked ahead of it.
The farmer previously used a 36-row planter on his 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans. When asked if he'll trade his 36-row for a 48-row next year, when they are officially released, he paused, shrugged, and said, "I'm going to have to do a lot of thinking and figuring."