Imagine you’re planting down the middle of your local high school football field. With John Deere/Bauer Built’s newest planter, the DB120, you’d only have 20 ft. from each outside row unit to the sidelines – thanks to its 120-ft.-wide toolbar.

“As growers get bigger, they’re looking for more productivity from their equipment to plant more acres per day,” says Rob Rippchen, Deere’s division marketing manager for the new planter. “At 120 ft., the DB120 has 30% more productivity than our 36-row, DB90 planter and will match up wit­­­­h our 12-row corn heads.”

Depending on field conditions, the DB120 should plant 90-100 acres/hour at the recommended 5-5½ mph, according to Rippchen.

It’s not just big, it’s high-tech. “The DB120 is a front-fold, 5-section, flex-frame planter equipped with CCS RefugePlus and Pro-Series XP row units,” Rippchen says. “The planter will be offered with 125 bu. of seed capacity, SeedStar 2 monitoring and variable-rate seed drives, pneumatic down force and RowCommand as standard equipment.” Front-mounted coulters or row cleaners are optional.

The DB120’s frame basically is a bigger version of the company’s DB90 planter built by Vaughn Bauer, Bauer Built Manufacturing Inc., Paton, IA. The DB120’s outer wings are 30-ft. sections, rather than the 15-ft. outer wings on the DB90. The three center sections on both frames measure 20 ft. The DB120’s new design eliminates marker arms and instead relies on GPS guidance for planting accuracy.

The outside four planter units on the DB120 fold horizontally over the top of the toolbar for transport, and then the frame folds forward to the same width as the DB90. In transport position, the DB120 is 6 ft. longer than the DB90. “You have to be careful when you’re turning on country road intersections. You can’t turn too tight,” Bauer says. In a worst-case scenario, you might have to back around some corners to accommodate the planter’s length in transport position, says Bauer.

John Deere engineers calculate the planter’s empty weight at 40,200 lbs. Loaded with seed it should weigh 47,700 lbs. To handle the additional weight, compared to the DB90, Bauer beefed up the planter’s telescoping tongue. The DB120 uses a 12x16 outer tube and a 10x10 inner tube with trusses, while the DB90 has an 8x16 outer tube and 6x10 inner tube with trusses. “Field compaction shouldn’t be an issue since most of the weight of the planter is carried on the row units,” Rippchen notes.

The planter requires a Category V hitch. “In addition to the beefed-up tongue, we’ve added more steel to the center lift assembly to handle the weight,” says Bauer. “We also redesigned the tongue with a uni-ball swivel to fit around the hitch. That eliminates any slack in the hitch and the planter pivots on the ball instead of the drawbar. It’s like putting a bearing in the hitch.”

The added width of the planter requires a second hydraulic blower for seed distribution. “We set it up so one blower handles the inner 60 ft. and the second blower handles the outer 60 ft.,” Bauer says. “If we used just one blower, we would have had to set the pressure so high it would plug the inner row units.”

The John Deere DB120 will roll out with a limited number of units available in 2009, but the company will start taking orders this summer for farmers who want to plant with one in 2010. Retail price is $345,000, according to Rippchen.

It’s interesting to track the rate of planter size increases from Deere. The company introduced its first four- and six-row planters in 1957. It was more than a decade later when the company came out with its first eight-row planter in 1968. It was another 11 years, 1979, until Deere upgraded its planter line with 12- and 16-row planters in the 7000 Series.

It took just three more years for Deere to bring out its first 24-row planter in 1982; that satisfied the market for more than two decades. Deere introduced its 36-row DB90 in 2003, then waited just six years to bring out the DB120.

So, is this the limit for planter size? At least for a while, according to Rippchen and Bauer. “At this point, 120 ft. is a practical limit. You need to go in 30- or 40-ft. increments and I have a hard time getting my head around a 150-ft. planter,” he says. “The issue isn’t the weight in the field, but transporting the unit down the road. That puts the most load on the drawbar at the highest speed. We won’t introduce anything that our tractors can’t handle.”

Seed distribution would be an issue for a larger planter, adds Bauer. “It’s no problem building the frame, but we would have to rethink how we deliver seed.”

Bauer planted with the first DB120 he built last spring and says farmers won’t notice much difference operating the DB120. “Mostly they’ll find they can do an 80-acre field a little faster,” he says.

He may build a bigger planter some day, but Bauer says, “It will take quite a bit to out-do this one.”