You won't convince Dick Hunter that bigger isn't better when it comes to planters. He's got a 90' corn planter that proves his commitment to the concept.

He views it as a risk management tool that protects him from lost planting days. “With the chance for bad weather, it's better to have a planter that's too big rather than too small,” says the Scranton, IA, farmer.

“The size and speed of your corn planter really doesn't make any difference on June 1. I've seen too many fields not get planted in wet years. If we had nice weather all the time, all we would need is a 30' planter,” he says.

Hunter doesn't get any arguments from risk management consultant Moe Russell. “When it comes to machinery costs,” Russell says, “we recommend that clients put their money into a planter first and a combine second. You can use a 24-row planter for up to 3,000 acres. For more acres, you need to look for something bigger.”

The University of Illinois has a spread sheet at www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/finance/business.html that can help growers calculate their planter needs. Titled “Machinery Economics,” the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet can calculate the probability of completing planting in the time frame given, based on planter size and planted acres.

The program is for Illinois conditions, but can serve as a guide for other areas of the Corn Belt, too.

Hunter's 90' planter flexes in five sections. The center section is 15' wide, the two middle sections are 20' wide and the outside wings are 17.5' wide. The bar carries 36 row units on 30" centers. Hunter powers the John Deere vacuum units, two Rawson hydraulic controllers, and the bar's hydraulic cylinders with just four outlets on the tractor.

“It's actually more flexible than a 24-row planter,” he says. “If you harvest with a 12-row head, it's the next logical size planter size so the rows match up.

“It's a speed saving machine,” he adds. “We can drive a full mile per hour slower than we used to, plant 500 acres a day and quit at 9 or 10 p.m. instead of going all night.”

The wide bar works better in wet spots, too, Hunter points out. The 90' bar carries four tires on each wing rather than two. The weight per tire is less than smaller planters, which helps the 90' unit to float over wet spots rather than sink in.

“We'd been using two 60' planters. One was set up for 30" corn and the other for 15" soybeans. We had to raise the extra units, change the markers and the monitor settings when we switched the bean planter to corn,” Hunter says. “We eliminate all that with the new corn planter, and we can start planting beans a week earlier.”

Hunter spreads dry fertilizer in the fall for corn ground and then applies anhydrous only on soybean stubble. Corn stubble gets one trip with a disk-chisel tool. In the spring, he hits fields once with a field cultivator and plants. All herbicides are postemerge.

“We bought a sprayer with a 90' boom to match the rows. It works really nice,” he says. “There's no overlap.”

Hunter doesn't see much limitation to the planter with field size. “The smallest field we planted was 80 acres. You just end up with more end rows.”

A 90' planter can be delivered to your door for around $145,000, according to its builder, Vaughn Bauer, Bauer Built, Mfg., Paton, IA. He agreed last year to build planters from 44' to 90' for John Deere.

“You need close to a 250-hp tractor with FWA to pull the planter,” Bauer says. “It doesn't take that much power to pull, but you need the tractor weight to control it when you're going down the road.”