Advances in planter technology just may be breathing new life into the old planters-versus-drills debate. For years, no-till drills held the upper hand over 30" rows because of their narrow-row yield advantage, quick-canopy weed control and easier harvesting.

That's all changing.

Several companies now offer planters with "splitter units" or "interplant packages" that can plant both 30" rows for corn and 15" rows for soybeans. "The recent trend toward 15"-row planters seems to be continuing, with no backing off," reports Bill Heick, with Kinze Manufacturing, Inc. "Our dealers tells us they have taken a lot of drills in trade for planters with 15"-row capability."

Other factors are likely driving this trend toward 15" rows, says Dan Towery, natural resources specialist at the Conservation Technology Information Center. "An increase in white mold is part of the reason. Another is a lot of Roundup Ready seed planted, and the higher cost with the higher populations that are used with drilling."

The trendsetters

Many growers, especially those with large acreages, have gone with the large air drills or planters in recent years.

Denny and Jo Dunn, large-acreage no-tillers at Clemons, IA, typify the new trend. They like to plant corn and soybeans at the same time. To get over the sizable acreage of each, they had two 15' John Deere no-till drills for soybeans and a 16-row John Deere vacuum-type planter for corn, which they still prefer.

They bought a new 40' Kinze no-till planter that plants sixteen 30" rows and thirty-one 15" rows. They use this strictly for soybeans. They kept one drill as a handy option for getting into smaller areas.

"In our situation, seed cost with drills has become a major factor," Denny Dunn maintains. "If we can save $8-10/acre on seed by not overplanting like we had to do with the drills, it adds up to some serious cash. The other reason was labor. It required two guys with the two drills, and with this unit, one can do it."

"It takes a little longer to fill the planter. Plus, we drove faster with the drills so we got a little more done. And I do miss combining drilled beans," he says. "But there's no doubt that you get better seed placement with the planter versus the drill, and depth control and planting precision are better."

Randy Riebe, Ottawa, IL, and brother-in-law Darryl Meisel traded a 15' Crustbuster no-till drill they'd had since 1983 - and a John Deere 12-row, 30" planter they used for corn - for a new John Deere Interplant unit for planting twelve 30" rows for corn and twenty-three 15" rows for soybeans.

"I really like this planter," Riebe says. "There's no sense in having two pieces of equipment for upkeep. With one rig there's less manpower involved. You can hold your depth and planting rate a lot better with the planter."