There is some mighty big equipment out there -- huge stuff for big operators. Still, you can't just go down to your local dealer and order a 32-row planter and support implements to match.

So Ellis and Tom Moore built their own.

The Texas Panhandle producers farm about 3,600 acres of corn, 1,100 acres of grain sorghum and 2,800 acres of wheat under center pivot irrigation.

Corn and sorghum are grown in 20-in. narrow rows. And other than at planting and harvest time, they, with Tom's son, Mitchell, do all the work themselves.

"With that many acres Tom and I had to run our one 16-row planter 24 hours a day, about 12 hours each (before Mitchell started working with them)," says Ellis Moore of Sunray, TX. "We needed two planters, but couldn't find the right kind of labor to operate the extra one. We started looking into building our own 32-row unit."

That was in 1999, after they visited with a dealer at an equipment trade show. They decided to use parts off a 16-row John Deere MaxEmerge planter, then buy separate manufacturer parts to fill out the 32-row homemade unit.

The first challenge was building a toolbar, or toolbars, stout enough to handle the monster planter's more than seven tons of weight.

They contacted Paul Moore (no relation) of Benedict, NE, who is known for customized equipment. “Since we wanted 20-in. rows, he had to alter his designs for cross beams and other parts of the planter,” says Ellis. “It was quite a challenge. Everything had to fold correctly.”

Paul Moore built toolbars in three sections; a 27-ft.-wide, 16-row center section, and two outer sections, 8 rows and 13½-ft. wide. The two bottom bars of each section were built to 7- × 7-in. specs for added strength. The top mast bar is 4- × 4-in.

"The back bars are sealed on each end to serve as a vacuum for tubes leading from two vacuum meters," says Ellis. "That was Paul's idea, and it really enables the planter to have accurate seed distribution in every row unit."

Two hydraulic lift assemblies were added. The large size of the planter required four rear 16-in. lift-assist wheels and another two for the front. "When the ground is soft, you really need all the wheels to support the planter," says Ellis.

Once the toolbars and lift assemblies were completed, they were shipped to the Moores. They then assembled the remaining parts of the planter inside their barn, one bolt at a time.

The growers installed MaxEmerge-plus planter boxes (16 off their old planter and 16 new ones), Keaton seed firmers equipped with liquid tubes, Yetter trash lifters and 16-in. coulters, and Deere SeedStar planter monitors. A Red Ball flow system was added for accurate chemical applications.

The overall cost of the planter was just over $60,000. It operates behind one of two Deere 8420 track tractors. Corn is seeded at 35,500-37,500 seeds per acre.

Running at 4 mph, they can plant about 250 acres a day. "We had tried to plant at a faster speed, but just had too many areas of reduced stands," says Ellis. "So we keep it at 4 mph."

Every winter, the planter is moved into the shop for an overhaul.

"We examine every piece of equipment from the ground up," points out Ellis. "We make sure everything is working properly before we head to the field the following spring. Meter boxes are also recalibrated by a local Pioneer dealer and the Meter Max program every year."

The Moores also built a 32-row lister. "We designed it and a local welder put it together," says Ellis. They converted a trailer to hold four sets of Seed Pro boxes. A vacuum system moves seed from boxes to planter at high speed. "If we used seed bags it would take two men 30 minutes to fill the planter," says Ellis. "With this system, one man can do it in 20."

They are attempting to convert their operation entirely to strip-till, and are currently content with a shop-built, 16-row strip-till plow put together this past winter.

With lots of trash residue in the field, not to mention West Texas winds, it can be difficult to make exact row spacings with the tractor without a sophisticated guidance system.

The Moores used to use markers for that chore. Then, in 2002, they installed a unique AutoFarm AutoSteer system that uses GPS technology. It locks in the exact marking for planting, cultivating or any field operation.

Data collected at a base station feeds into a computerized cab box, which features a touch control display panel. The tractor steering system is linked to the display panel. Once data is entered into the system, roll, pitch and yaw are all automatically controlled to assure exact alignment.

"We can take our hands off the steering wheel, turn around, and keep a close eye on whatever equipment is being used," says Ellis. "With 32-row equipment, that can mean a lot in preventing clogs or other problems."

The Moores plant all rows in a circle to coincide with pivot irrigation systems.

"There are fewer turns," says Ellis. "And with our strong winds, the circle rows prevent excessive row damage. Also, since we use irrigation drop tubes positioned only 1 ft. off the ground, the circular rows prevent tubes from getting tangled up (like in a straight-row layout)."