With more than eight sections in no-till, James Weinheimer and his sons needed a planter that was both big and simple.

They chose a 60'-wide, multifunction Case Concord 3400 air drill that plants soybeans in 6.5"-wide seed bands on 12" spacings. It seeds and fertilizes in one pass while chomping through milo or wheat stalks.

James, John and Nick Weinheimer dryland farm in the semiarid Texas Panhandle near Groom. They've grown wheat and sorghum for years, adding beans in 1997. Their flat, non-terraced terrain is ideal for big equipment.

After considering several options, they took a $100,000-plus plunge and bought the biggest Concord air drill system available. Among its advantages, it met their need for precise fertilizer placement, enabling them to cut fertilizer use by one-third.

"We needed a machine that would cover a wide area and efficiently blend seed and fertilizer to generate a vigorous stand that could take full advantage of the soil," says Weinheimer. "This rig does that. We don't worry about any land preparation leading up to planting. We go right into stubble and residue from the previous crop."

The drill weighs about 38,000 lbs. It has four seeding rows, each with 15 "C" shanks bent at an 80 degrees angle. Attached to each shank is an Anderson chrome-plated "triple-shoot" opener. Disc levelers on the rear row of shanks help reduce bunching and plugging. Two or three tubes are attached to each opener - one for seed, one for dry fertilizer and one for anhydrous ammonia application, when needed.

"We sometimes like to put down anhydrous because it works well in doublecrop situations and does a great job of mellowing the soil," says Weinheimer.

Seed is planted about 1 1/2" deep, and fertilizer is applied roughly 1 1/2-2" below the seed.

Seed and dry fertilizer tubes lead to a 340-bu, two-sided hopper hitched behind the drill. A 204-bu section holds dry fertilizer; a 136-bu section is for seed.

Soybeans are seeded at about 35 lbs/acre. An 18-46-0 or 11-52-0 fertilizer blend is used. A 375-hp four-wheel-drive tractor pulls the drill. They plant at 6 mph. By using two people, one to plant and one to refill the hoppers, the Weinheimers can plant up to 400 acres per day.

Air delivery of seed and fertilizer is as easy as punching in the desired amount on a cab-based monitor. The monitor alerts them when bins are low, the drive line stops rotating, rpm is low, or oil pressure is off.

The Weinheimers used the drill to plant wheat last fall, but plan to come back with soybeans on 400-600 acres in the spring if subsoil moisture is ample.

Air seeders also are gaining popularity in cotton country, where ultra-narrow-row production is growing. John Deere and Flexi-Coil have air seeders, too. Flexi-Coil has row models that can plant corn in 30" rows and soybeans in 15" rows.