It obviously takes big equipment to farm big farms. Douglas, NE, farmer and equipment builder Milford Friesen does his best to keep up with that trend.

As planter toolbars became wider and wider, folding them for transport became a real problem. Friesen designed a front-fold, telescoping-tongue toolbar that allows farmers to build planters up to 45' wide and still transport them legally on state highways.

While Friesen's original design has been a success, the shift toward narrow-row corn sent him back to his drawing board last winter. His challenge: design a toolbar that allows planting in 15" rows, even over terraces, without planter units smacking together at the seed opener or boxes.

That's a head scratcher most engineers wouldn't tackle.

By the time the ground thawed last spring, Friesen had two prototypes ready for the field. And, after a summer's worth of modification, he has applied for a patent on his latest design.

Farmers who have tried the new toolbar like it. In fact, his production for 1998 is sold out.

"The new toolbar operates the same as our old one, with the exception that the tongue rotates on pivot points at the hitch and planter frame," says Friesen. "A mechanical linkage tilts planter units mounted on the tongue frame of the toolbar as the wings flex. The linkage averages the angle of tilt and compensates so the planter units never touch.

"The hinges that allow the wings to float attach to either side of the tongue frame. The tongue always tilts half as much as the wings. The unit can compensate for as much as 24 degrees of flex from either wing or both wings combined."

It takes an engineer to understand how the linkage works, but farmers who tried it have no doubts about its performance.

"It works good," says Friesen's neighbor, Gayle Steinkuhler, who used the planter on 450 terraced corn and bean acres in '97.

In 1999, Friesen will offer the toolbar in 30', 40' and 45' lengths to accommodate 15", 18", 20", 22", 30" and 36" row widths.

"It works with either an even or odd number of planter units," he says. A 30' bar retails for roughly $31,000.

Steinkuhler sees a number of advantages to the new design. Right now he uses a six-row, 30" planter because that's as wide as his terraces allow. The ability to plant over the top of terraces in 15" rows means he'll plant faster and harvest more bushels at the end of the year.

"Narrow rows are definitely the way to go," says Steinkuhler. "We could see the difference in the amount of moisture fields hold with the extra shading. Our narrow-row corn yielded 19 to 20 bushels an acre more than our 30-inch rows."