Ron Frankenstein wanted one big machine to plant both corn and soybeans in narrow rows.

Larry and Lance Fliehs were looking for better yields and a quicker canopy to control weeds in corn.

These South Dakota farmers found their answers with 24-row, 20" planters.

"I couldn't justify the cost of two pieces of equipment to plant corn and beans with," explains Frankenstein, who farms 1,800 acres at Redfield.

"We had been no-till drilling soybeans and I always considered it kind of messy at planting. We didn't get good seed-to-soil contact, and I wasn't getting the germination I wanted."

Frankenstein chose a 20" planter because he figured rows had to be at least that narrow to maintain soybean yields.

"And I couldn't go any narrower than that and still buy a corn head to match the rows. I didn't necessarily want a 24-row planter, but that's all that was available."

He originally intended to put all his fertilizer down as liquid at planting. He bought fertilizer units that used coulters with nozzles mounted behind them to inject fertilizer 3.5" deep ahead of the planter.

The fertilizer units worked fine in no-till fields but were a planting day's worst nightmare in disked fields. The units plugged and Frankenstein finally pulled them off and dribbled starter fertilizer behind the double-disk seed openers.

"We were back to pop-up fertilizer," he says. "Instead of putting down 42 gallons/acre on corn like I wanted, the most we could do was 12 gallons."

A local supplier sprayed 28% N along with herbicide to get enough fertilizer on Frankenstein's fields.

For the 1998 season, Frankenstein replaced last year's fertilizer units with John Deere's single-disc no-till fertilizer coulters and rubber-tired gauge wheels.

"There are a lot of them used in this area," he says. "They're reliable and trouble-free."

A single trash wheel mounted behind each fertilizer unit will clear the seed path for the planter.

A new, 1,600-gallon tow tank for fertilizer will give him more acres between stops.

"I have a 500-gallon tank mounted on the tongue of the planter so the tractor carries about half the weight. With 2,100 gallons of liquid fertilizer, I'll be able to plant almost 50 acres of corn before I need to refill."

In 1997, problems with fertilizer attachments didn't seem so bad after a June 21 hailstorm ripped through Frankenstein's corn and soybean crops. The soybeans recovered, but corn yields lagged.

"I'm hopeful I'll be satisfied with 20" rows for corn," he says. "But I can't say I learned anything last year because of the hail."

Beans, however, were a real success story.

"We're very happy with 20" rows for beans," he says.

"With the planter, I was able to plant 170,000 seeds/acre instead of 210,000 like when I drilled. The beans averaged 45 bu in spite of the hail. The more we learn about diseases and the effects of drilled beans and no-till, it looks very good for 20" rows," Frankenstein adds.

At nearby Groton, Larry Fliehs and his son Lance give 20" rows equally high marks after their first year's experience.

"We really weren't ready to trade our 30" planter, but felt there would be a lot of advantages to switching to narrower rows," says Lance Fliehs.

Buying a 24-row, 20" planter not only relegated their drill to wheat, it cut their machinery inventory at harvest as well.

"We had been running two combines with six-row corn heads," Fliehs reports. "When we switched to 20" rows, we bought a 12-row head and eliminated one combine."

Twenty-inch corn rows canopy earlier, according to Fliehs.

"Our fields had a canopy a week to 10 days ahead of fields planted in 30" rows. In some cases it was as much as two weeks ahead."

Not much slows the Fliehs' down when it's time to plant. Dry fertilizer is broadcast in fall and spring as weather allows, and no herbicides are applied with the planter, either.

Crop residue is cleared out of the planter's path with bolt-on units that have two trash wheels running on either side of the seed row with a ripple coulter in between.

"The units won't fit behind the planter's wheels, so we run a single trash wheel and coulter on those six rows."

The proof of any crop system is in the yields, and there was no disappointment last year on the Fliehs farm.

"Our 20" corn was 5-6 bu/acre better than with 30" rows," says Fliehs.

"And we didn't see any yield drop off with 20" beans compared to yields when we drilled in 7.5" rows."