Bigger may not always be better, but it sure works for Lake Benton, MN, farmer Randy Sixta. Building a 66'-wide planter last winter was strictly a matter of economics.

"I eliminated a second tractor and planter and a hired man to run it," Sixta says. "I figure that's saving me at least $8/acre. Plus I've got less depreciation and maintenance. And it's easier to keep the planter updated because I only have to buy parts for one."

With the ability to plant 35-40 acres an hour, Sixta can afford to drive slowly and improve his crop stand. "We can pull the planter at 6-61/2 mph, but we get more consistent seed depth and spacing when we drive at 5 mph," he says. "We also reduce compaction with a wider planter because there are fewer tire tracks."

There's an economic advantage to narrow rows as well. Sixta has planted in 22" rows for nearly a decade and says: "We consistently see a 7- to 10-bu/acre advantage in corn compared to 30" rows and a 6-bu advantage with the narrow-row beans over drilled beans."

Sixta custom-ordered the 66', front-folding toolbar through his local dealer. He bought five Case IH seed modules and 36 row units that he bolted onto the toolbar on 22" centers. Three separate Rawson hydraulic controllers drive the modules and allow Sixta to control separately the eight planter units mounted on the center toolbar and the 14 units on each wing.

A 60 gpm pto-mounted hydraulic pump (requiring 60 hp to run) provides all the power for the planter. Sixta mounted a 60-gallon aluminum tank on the planter tongue for a hydraulic fluid reservoir. He chose aluminum to help dissipate heat.

"I use a large throttle valve to maintain 1,500 psi and direct excess hydraulic fluid back to the tank. We also used stainless steel lines from the throttle valve to the back of the planter to help dissipate heat."

A throttle valve and pressure gauge mounted under each seed module allow him to maintain 1,400 psi of pressure to each unit. They also help with maintenance. "If a motor starts to lose pressure we know it's going bad," he says. "It makes troubleshooting a lot easier."

Sixta added stainless steel platforms and railings behind the planter to make refills safe. He plumbed in two hydraulic cylinders to the lift mechanism on the tongue for more power to raise the planter when he folds it. And, he mounted lights on the row markers so he can see them at night or when dust becomes a problem.

With 90 bu of seed capacity, he can plant up to 200 acres of corn per fill, depending on seed size, and 75 acres of soybeans. "We plant corn at 33,000 seeds/acre and beans at 190,000 seeds/acre," he says.

He pumps 5-7 gallons of 10-34-0 liquid starter into the seed furrow when he plants corn. All herbicide applications are applied pre-emerge or postemerge with a floater.

The narrow 22" spacing hasn't been a problem in residue, according to Sixta. "We deep rip fields after harvest in the fall and field cultivate once before planting." In the wet spring of 1999, the planter handled wet spots with the same ease it walks through residue. "The tongue is so long that usually the tractor was on dry ground before the planter was in the wet spot.

"This planter actually pulls easier than the 24-row, 22" planter it replaced. That planter only had six tires and this one has 12." He uses a 280-hp four-wheel-drive tractor mounted with triples to pull his planter.

"How much we plant in a day depends on the field size and road time," he says. It doesn't take much time to fold and unfold the planter, however. With one switch and one hydraulic lever, Sixta can convert the planter from field to road position in less than two minutes - and never leave the cab.

The only change that Sixta has planned for this year is a cab-mounted camera so he can monitor the planter without looking back. "The planter has met every expectation we had," he says.