Matt Hansen works metal the way a good chef works a meal. He uses the same parts as everybody else, but builds equipment that suits his tastes.

"If I build equipment myself, I can build it the way I really need it," says this Dorchester, NE, farmer. "And I can add accessories without writing as huge a check."

Hansen figures he saves anywhere from 10% to 30% off the cost of new equipment when he builds it himself. On some equipment, however, that figure can more than double.

Those cost savings allow Hansen to build bigger equipment that makes him more efficient. Before the 1997 planting season, he ordered a 60' toolbar, stripped the planter units off the two 12-row planters he had been using and built his own 24-row, 30" planter.

"Some people might wonder if I really need that big a planter," Hansen says. "But I saved a tractor and a set of tanks, the man to run it and a second tending truck.

"I run roughly 100 acres per row unit," he says. "Compared to some guys that may not be much. But then, other farmers cover a lot fewer acres than that. At one time I planted 2,000 acres with just one 12-row planter. I'm a lot more timely with the bigger machine."

It was more than just a matter of lining up bolts and brackets for Hansen to build his 24-row planter. He mounted a seed pod (from the two 12-row planters) on each of the toolbar's three sections, making sure their weight kept the toolbar balanced. Two pumps piggybacked together on the tractor pto drive the seed units.

"I could have bought one pump to run all three, but this saved me about $500," he says.

Hydraulic drives control planting rate and electric clutches controlled granular insecticide application until he switched to a liquid product. He also mounted 2,400-gallon fertilizer tanks on the toolbar.

"We built catwalks around all three seed pods for easy access when we refill," says Hansen. "I really like the capacity of the seed pods. And we work off the back of a truck so it's easy to move from the truck to the planter when we refill."

Although Hansen plants 30" beans on furrow-irrigated ground, he prefers narrow rows for pivot-irrigated and dryland beans. So, naturally, he built a narrow-row planter as well.

"It's cheaper than a no-till drill and I get more accurate seeding," he says. "I get a quicker canopy with the narrow rows and theoretically I get a yield boost. That hasn't always been the case, but it proved true in 1999."

Another advantage of building your own equipment? Building an inventory of parts. Hansen built his 23-row, 15" soybean planter with a used 12-row planter that he bought and a toolbar left over from dismantling his 12-row planter. The 11 "splitter" units on his soybean planter came from a previous unit he had built and he added them to the 12 row units on the used planter he bought for the project.

"I used a double-bar setup on the planter with the front units mounted as 'pushers.' I had them set up that way on another planter I built and it was just easier to mount them the same way on this planter. If I had mounted all the units on a single bar I would have needed different brackets for the lift-assist wheels."

Hansen added a third seed pod (left over from his 12-row planter) to the planter frame to provide seed for the extra units. "I reversed the rear seed pod so I could get all three units closer together for filling. And it's easier to switch the drum on the rear unit with it facing the back of the planter," he says.

The modifications meant Hansen had to raise the brackets of the seed pods 8" to allow room for the drive chains. Like with his corn planter, Hansen added catwalks around the seed pods for convenience and safety.

"I probably only have about $11,000 in the planter, including the cost of the used planter, all the parts and my labor," he says.