Last winter, John Deere introduced its largest planter yet — the 48-row, 30-in. spacing, 120-ft.-wide DB120, touted as planting 90-100 acres/hour when operated at 5-5.5 mph.

Increased efficiency and planting speed are what farmers are looking for, says Chris Savener, marketing manager for John Deere planters. As a result, “the trend is for larger and larger planters,” he says.

No doubt the DB120 is efficient, but what about the logistics of getting it into the field?

Not a problem, says Savener. “Our goal is always to fold and transport planters as efficiently as possible, and to design them so they fit behind the tractors for transport,” he says. “So if the tractor can make it through a 12.5-15-ft.-wide field entrance, then we want our planter transport width to be able to fit through that space, too. And for our 30-in.-row planters, the transport width is 12.5-15 ft.”

Still, fitting longer planters through narrow field entrances can be tricky, adds Savener. “The planter transport length is where the difficulty is in getting into a field,” he says, “but we try to make the wheel base as short as we can for transport to help with that.”

Planter maneuverability is an essential component of customer satisfaction with larger planter sizes, says Alan Forbes, marketing manager for Case IH planters. “For our 32- and 36-row planters, one of the top things customers have to say is a need for them to fit into field entrances,” says Forbes. “Otherwise, they would either be forced to go the long way around to enter fields or to widen entryways and culverts leading into their fields.”

CASE IH'S SOLUTION to that problem is its patented steerable rear-axle design, “which allows you to turn about 20 ft. tighter than you could normally,” says Forbes. “The tighter turning radius could mean the difference between tires ending up in the ditch or staying on the road.”

Having a steerable rear axle on his 32-row, 30-in.-spacing Case IH 1260 Early Riser planter, was a welcome improvement for Bob Stewart, who farms near Yorkville, IL. “Some of these big planters are so long it's like pulling a semi behind you, and they can be very difficult to turn into a field entrance,” says Stewart. His field entrances average about 20 ft. wide. “I think the bigger planters are all going to need rear-axle steering like this has.”

You should still be cautious when traveling rural roads, says Robert Aherin, University of Illinois Extension safety specialist. “The problem with wider machinery is the risk of collision and the liabilities of transporting it,” says Aherin. “A typical rural roadway is only 18-20 ft. wide, often with no shoulder. Even a paved, two-lane highway is usually only 22 ft. wide and may also lack a shoulder.”

The bottom line is that farmers have a duty and legal requirement to warn drivers if they're taking up more than one lane of traffic, says Aherin. “Drivers need at least 1,000 ft. of visibility to avoid a collision,” he says. So if there are curves and dips in the road, consider using escort vehicles to slow down and warn the traffic.

“Another option is to rely on trailers to transport machinery to the field, but the trailer and machinery should still only take up 8-10 ft. in width for safe use on most rural roads,” he says.