The path to narrow-row soybeans has led many farmers to scavenge used Cyclo planters off dealers' lots. So when Colon, NE, farmer Rod Chvatal wanted to build his own narrow-row planter, he drove the countryside looking at what other farmers had already done.

“I talked with one farmer in Illinois who knew of five planters in his neighborhood, all based on modifying Cyclo planters for narrow rows,” he says. Farmers willingly told him what did and didn't work on the planters they built, and what they would do differently.

“I already knew I wanted to start with a planter that had walking tandem wheels,” he says. “I no-till all my soybeans, except for ground that was in seed corn, and the walking tandem wheels follow even ground better.”

Chvatal adds, “One suggestion I got was to offset the planter units. Some guys had mounted them side-by-side and had trouble with trash clearance. They suggested a minimum of a 6" offset, but I went with 20". That way there's plenty of room for trash to flow through, and also room for me to get between the units when I need to work on them.”

Chvatal started his project with a Case IH 800 Cyclo planter already equipped with walking tandem axles. He extended each wing by 4', bolted on an additional 16-row unit and added two more seed modules. The result is a 24-row, 15" narrow-row soybean planter with a 45-bu seed capacity. All the row units attach to the planter toolbar. Chvatal built extensions with 5 × 7" tubing to offset every other planter unit.

Drive wheels on each end of the planter control the seed modules. “I used a ratchet drive off one of the old planters I bought, so the outside wheel always drives the modules,” he says. “You get more consistent seed drop that way.” Blowers are powered with a pto-driven hydraulic pump.

The addition of the extra seed modules required Chvatal to add a toolbar frame 12" above the planter's original bar. “It's basically a rectangle, built with 7 × 7" square tubing, that's as wide as the center planter section and extends forward,” he says. “I mounted the seed modules on the front of the frame and bolted the lift assist wheels to the back of it.” Chvatal had to lengthen and modify the lift assist wheel arms to reach the elevated frame.

“I fill the modules from a bulk wagon with an auger, which works really well,” he says. “But when I finish planting and have to use bags, it becomes a real shin bruiser. The only change I'll make to the planter before next year is a catwalk behind the modules.”

With Case IH Early Riser planter units, Chvatal no-tills into cornstalks without any additional coulters or trash wheels. “I like to plant diagonally to the old rows,” he says. “That helps level the fields and it seems like the stalks start to deteriorate quicker. When I spray, I drive with the old rows so I run over fewer beans.”

The narrow rows shade beans earlier, but not quickly enough to get by with a single Roundup application, Chvatal found out. “I apply a residual herbicide when weeds first start to show in the field,” he says. “Then I come back with a single postemerge Roundup application. I grow seed beans, and I want to make sure they're clean.”

Apparently, Chvatal's travels proved worthwhile. Other than the catwalk, he doesn't plan any changes to his shop-built planter this year. “It works great,” he says, “except for the bruised shins.”