This year's planters are smarter than ever. All major manufacturers offer sophisticated controllers that can change seeding rates on the go, monitor populations, and a lot more. Increasingly, these controllers use ISOBUS-compliant communications protocols. This allows them to be hooked directly to tractor monitors, avoiding the clutter and expense of an additional display.

In 2009, with their latest controllers, Great Plains and John Deere join AGCO and Case IH in the ISOBUS revolution.

Larger frame

Major manufacturers haven't broken the 90-ft. barrier — yet. Industry rumors suggest that a 120-footer could be just around the corner. As manufacturers add new or upgraded 24-row and wider planters, the net effect is that the base of planters in the field continues to get wider.

“As producers take on more and more acres, we are seeing more demand for large-frame planters [24 rows and up],” says Adam Sipes of Kinze Manufacturing. In response to this trend, Kinze is beefing up its large-frame planter line by updating its model 3800 24-row planter with its new Air Seed Delivery central fill system, hydraulic drive and row shutoff clutches.

Another new entry in the wide-planter arena is from Case IH. Its new 32- and 36-row models offer a unique steerable rear axle and dual-purpose wing wheels that improve stability during transit.

More efficient

Nobody has figured out how to get around the need to plant at relatively slow speeds. But planters are getting more efficient, and that means covering more acres per hour. Central fill systems have been a major contributor to this efficiency boost.

“The trend definitely has gone to central fill,” says AGCO's Gary Hamilton, a White planter senior marketing specialist. “A very high percentage, 90 to 95%, of our new 8800 series 16- and 24-row planters are central fill.”

More precise

By some estimates, at least 75% of new planters are being ordered with hydraulic drives. That percentage is likely to increase, in part because many large planters are no longer available with ground drives.

When coupled with sophisticated controllers, these planters are able to change planting populations on the go using map-based prescriptions.

The convenience of changing plant populations from the cab is probably the biggest factor driving hydraulic-drive planter sales, not map-based seeding, at least for now, says Rob Rippchen of John Deere's seeding group. “I think a lot of growers see long term that they want the capability to use map-based seeding,” he says.

Tom Evans of Great Plains expects that growers will adopt variable-rate seeding at the same rapid pace as they are adopting tractor guidance systems. “I would have thought, in 10 years, every tractor would have steering capabilities,” he says. “Now I am thinking that is going to be two to five years. If growers have precision steering on the tractor, they will demand having precision capabilities on the planter in the same time period.”

“It's amazing how far we have come in a few years,” adds Alan Forbes of Case IH. “Not so long ago the thought of automatically changing seed populations on the go based on GPS coordinates was a far-fetched notion. Now it is a reality.”

Here's a look at the latest smarter, wider, faster, more precise planters from major planter manufacturers.

Case IH

Case IH is offering feature upgrades on several planter lines, as well as new 32- and 36-row front-fold planters with an innovative steerable rear axle. The 32-row machines are offered with 30-in. spacing only, but the 36-row versions will be available in 20-, 22- and 30-in. spacings. The 32- and 36-row planters complement new front-fold 12-, 16- and 24-row 1250 series planters that will be more widely available this year.

Several features are new across all 12-row and larger planters for 2009. Pneumatic down-pressure control is now an option.

AFS AccuRow row control also is a new option for 2009. This is Case IH's branded Tru Count clutch, which is paired with built-in control for up to 12 two-row sections with the AFS Pro 600 monitor. List prices range from $465 to $600 per row, depending on planter width.

A mounted 20-ft. KSI seed conveyor is another new option. The conveyor pivots from a horizontal transport position to the ground to allow seed to be dumped and conveyed directly from the truck box instead of a tender.

The new 1260 series 32- and 36-row planters take on two issues that customers identified as challenges for ultrawide planters: stability and maneuverability. Solutions to both are built into this Case IH-engineered bar.

“The big concern growers have with these large-frame toolbars is transport stability,” Forbes says. “The more tongue weight, the less stable when transporting.” To cope with high tongue weight, 90-ft. planters typically have 3-pt. hitches. But Case IH engineers came up with a solution that allows their new toolbar to use a drawbar hitch.

Case IH addressed stability by engineering wing-support wheels to do double duty. When in transport mode, four castering wing axles (with eight wheels total) take weight off the hitch. Wings are designed to flex vertically in transit, which helps the folded bar adjust with the terrain.

“You need wing wheels anyway for flotation when planting,” Forbes says. “Why not use them for transport, too?”

The list price for a 1260 36-row, 30-in. planter base model is $240,000. A 32-row, 30-in. model lists at $214,000. Contact Case IH, Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404, 877/422-7344, visit www.caseih.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 101.

Great Plains

Beginning this year, all Great Plains planters will be outfitted with Dickey-john's IntelliAg controller. The ISOBUS-compliant computer resides on the planter and communicates with existing ISOBUS-compliant displays in the tractor cab. An IntelliAg monitor is available for tractors without ISOBUS-compliant displays.

“When you plug it in [to the tractor display], the planter says to the tractor, ‘I am YP2425 [a Great Plains 60-ft. planter] with 48 twin-row units.’ It tells the tractor what it needs to do,” says Evans, Great Plains vice president for sales and marketing. “Instead of having to buy a separate $2,000 screen for the tractor, the smarts are on the planter.”

Contact Great Plains Mfg., Dept. FIN, 1525 E. North St., Salina, KS 67401, 785/823-3276, visit www.greatplainsmfg.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 102.

John Deere

For 2009, John Deere is introducing a new seed monitor system, an electric row shutoff solution and a 60-ft. split-row planter that's the widest on the market.

The new seed monitor system is called SeedStar 2, which includes an ISOBUS-compliant controller mounted on the planter, and new software that enables the GreenStar 2600 display to monitor and control planting functions. “Customers want to get down to one monitor in the cab,” says Ripp-chen, marketing manager for the Deere Seeding Division.

SeedStar 2 is available on new planters, but the company expects it to be a popular upgrade. That is likely, in part, because SeedStar 2 includes the hardware and software needed to run Deere's RowCommand row shutoff system. RowCommand can be added to existing 12-row and larger Deere SeedStar planters and is available from the factory on new models.

RowCommand, a CANbus-controlled electric clutch system, is integrated into row-unit ProShaft cable drives, which it disengages when signaled by the controller. SeedStar 2 controls up to 16 sections and eliminates the need for a separate section-control device.

The list price to upgrade a Deere planter to SeedStar 2 is $1,300 for 24 rows and under, and $2,600 for wider planters. RowCommand upgrades list at $450/row.

The new front-fold Deere DB60 60-ft. split-row planter places alternating rows on long parallel arms. This places split-row units 7 in. behind the lead units to enhance residue flow. The DB60 has Central Commodity System seed handling and 47 Pro series XP row units in a 30-in./15-in. configuration. A base DB60 lists for $246,465.

Contact your local John Deere dealer, visit www.deere.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 103.