A piece from here, a piece from there, add a little Iowa ingenuity and you've got a new 23-row, 15-in. soybean planter — all at a rock-bottom price of about $15,000.

It's not quite that simple, says Ron Smit, Hospers, IA, who two years ago built a 29-ft. wide planter with his father-in-law Clarence Huygens. But by going from 30-in. to 15-in. rows and building it himself, he saved a boatload of money. He says buying new would have set him back almost $50,000.

“I've planted in 30-in. rows, 7-in rows, and even experimented with solid seeding and disking the crop in,” Smit says. “After all that, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be in 15-in. rows to hit maximum yield potential.”

And if the last two years are any kind of a barometer, he made the right decision. The first year in 15-in. rows yielded 55 bu./acre. Last year, admittedly almost a perfect growing season, he hit 65 bu./acre. He's planting 170,000 seeds/acre and hoping for 160,000 plants/acre for his final stand.

Since 70% of his 1,750 acres of corn and soybeans is on rolling ground in northwest Iowa, Smit says, “Planting in 15-in. rows helps keep erosion down and that's a big plus.”

Smit started with two older Case IH planters: a model 800 he already owned and a model 900 he bought used for $7,500. He mounted one behind the other and offset it 15 in. so the result would be 15-in. row spacings. Directly behind the tractor wheels, however, he left an 18-in. gap so he can travel down that row with a sprayer.

To connect the planters he attached a used a toolbar in the rear and then welded two 7-in. × 8-in. gussets to help support the connecting arms to the front and rear toolbars. He also added two 4 in. × 4 in. gussets for additional stability near the outside of the 7-in. × 8-in. tubing.

He then mounted a 60-bu. Hiniker seed hopper between the two planter units. The hopper is centered on the units to help even out the overall planter weight. A hydraulic pump provides 10 psi of air pressure which delivers seed to each metered, ground-driven row unit.

“Before, the seed tank was on wheels and I pulled it behind the planter. But mounting makes it easier for turning corners,” Smit says. “I also attached hydraulic connectors to the seed box so I can hook it up to the seed tender when filling the box. It's just more convenient.”

Attaching two planters also meant more weight. To compensate, Smit added two lift-assist swivel wheels that extend 8 ft. to the rear of the planter. “Otherwise, the rear planter units would drag because they wouldn't lift high enough,” Smit says.

In total, the planter is 29 ft. wide, but the two outer wings fold in for a 12-ft. wide road transport mode. “It's very solid going down the road and fits nicely through all our road bridges,” Smit says.

In addition, four remotes operate the two outside wings, the lift assist rear wheels and the hydraulic motor for the seed delivery fan.

Even though Smit switched to planting with an Outback GPS system that's accurate within 2 in., he kept the markers on the planter. “We did that because you never know when you might need them,” he says. He moves the GPS system over to his combine during harvest.

“We're tickled pink with how this planter turned out,” Smit says. “I don't know what I'd do to make it any better.”