The smart money spent by several of our Team FIN members last year reflects the general trend of the past couple of years: Machinery purchases ruled.

Some members we talked to updated and modernized, captured newer technology, or just solved nagging problems. Others decided to keep ahead of the game by not buying anything. Yet others are rethinking their farming practices and bought machinery to make the transition.

For example, after farming no-till for a few years, Raymond Carrier of Monmouth, IL, is switching back to minimum-till. His no-till system just wasn't paying off like he wanted, so he bought a new disk. He says it's the best disk he's ever hooked up to in his 50-year career.

Daryl Bridenbaugh of Pandora, OH, saw the price of Synchrony reduced 75%. He got a subsidy from his local Conservation Office and a price incentive on a new no-till drill and is going to solid-seed his beans this spring. With incentives like these, he feels he can't go wrong.

So like most farmers, when purchasing machinery to till, plant or move product, these knowledgeable buyers do their homework. They spend time kicking tires, scoping out farm shows, and talking to neighbors and other users before pulling out the checkbook.

Three-in-one planter. To find a planter that best suited his needs for 30-in. corn and beans and 15-in. row beans, Rolland Schnell, Sully, IA, switched colors.

"I wanted a 12-row corn planter that could plant 15-in. bean rows," Schnell says. He replaced a 6-row and a 12-row John Deere model 7000 planter with an AGCO model 6342 planter for the '97 growing season.

"This was formerly a Black Machine toolbar that AGCO purchased. I chose it because it allowed the 12-row corn planter to be easily converted to a 15-in. row soybean planter," he says. "Other planters designed to plant 30-in. row corn and 15-in. row soybeans carry the idle bean units between or behind the corn units while planting 30-in. rows."

The 6342 folds to a 15-ft. bean planter from the full 30-ft. corn planter. He says it costs significantly less because it has only half of the units.

When planting beans, and for transport, the 12-row planter folds three units on each side behind the remaining six units. A 13th unit is added for planting soybeans. The toolbar is folded with controls on the planter hitch.

An air-pressurized seed disk metering system provides accurate seed placement. Schnell achieved uniform corn stands with even spacing even while pressing the top recommended planting speeds at high populations.

Schnell purchased the planter with Yetter row cleaners for handling high residue situations. He says he's pleased with their ability to move trash away from the front of the units without moving soil.

Base list price: $42,450. For more information, contact AGCO Corp., Dept. FIN, 4830 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30136, 800/ 767-3221 or circle 213.

Timely buys. Michael Wojahn, a corn and soybean farmer who farms 880 acres with his father in Windom, MN, bought a couple of new green machines last year.

To replace their Deere 4430, Wojahn headed to his Deere dealer just after the company released its new 7600 TEN series tractors and bought a 7600 110-hp MFWD.

"They were still giving prerelease deals and it saved me about $5,000 on the cost," Wojahn says. "We'd been using our 4430 since we bought it new when it was introduced and figured it was time for a new utility tractor."

Wojahn thought the price was a bit hefty for a smaller utility tractor. But he plans on getting a lot of use out of it. He uses the tractor to blow snow, grind feed, haul manure, plant corn, drill beans, cultivate corn, spray weeds, and pull gravity wagons.

"This year in particular the MFWD was used when the rains kept coming in the spring," Wojahn explains. "Things got done when our old tractor would have been left stuck in the mud."

The Wojahns also bought a new Deere 510 disk ripper. They've been chopping cornstalks and chisel plowing for several years and now want to get into a one-pass system in the fall.

"Our old JD 714 disk chisel was doing a good enough job when you chopped stalks, but that old chopper takes a lot of horsepower, and in the fall when we're busy enough as it is, it takes a lot of time," he says.

"The 510 has given us the 'one pass and you're done' option," he adds. "With enough horsepower to roll the machine through the field, it does an excellent job of both mixing the residue into the top few inches and cutting deep to reduce compaction."

Wojahn adds a note of caution here. He says you need an aggressive corn head to do a little cutting of the stalks first. And he warns, if your old corn head doesn't cut, you probably should chop the stalks first. Base list prices: $20,225 to $25,855. Circle 210.

The father-son team did some comparison shopping between Case and Deere when they were looking for a new tractor.

"We like both machines, but it eventually came down to the salespeople," Wojahn says. "Our Case dealer is small and didn't have a lot of time to help us - the Deere people were more available and willing to spend time with us on short notice.

"Case is now expanding its dealership in our area, and I'm happy to see that - if we get a bigger Case dealership here, we'll have better options when buying," he adds.

Flexible tandem disk. Before buying a new disk, Raymond Carrier talked to other farmers and neighbors who disk. "I haven't used one for a while because I've been no-tilling," he says. "But I'm changing farming practices and going back to minimum tillage."

Because it buries more dirt on the trash for decomposition, he expects the disk will help him save money on insecticides. "There's just too much trash buildup with no-till, and with trash, you get insects," he says.

He decided on a new Sunflower 1433, 25-ft. disk. But when he got down to the business of buying it, Carrier at first thought the price was "too cashy." But, he says, "I've since changed my mind. Now, I'm so pleased with the job it does, I've kind of discounted the price. It's heavy, extremely well-built, and according to word of mouth, has longevity," Carrier adds. "I guess sometimes the cheapest just isn't the best."

He says the disk travels 6 to 7 mph without ridging the ground and does a nice job going over ground before planting. Standard on the unit are castors out front of the disk to help level ground better. Retail price: $27,500. Contact Sunflower Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 566, Beloit, KS 67420, 800/748-8481 or circle 208.

Improved field cultivator. Brothers Jack and Gary Appleby farm over 2,300 acres of corn and soybeans in Illinois. Last year, they attended the Louisville National Farm Machinery Show (of which Farm Industry News is an official sponsor) with one thing on their minds: "Buy a new field cultivator."

"Gary and I made it a tradition to attend the Louisville show since the first time Farm Industry News sent us to it," Jack says.

After talking to all the field cultivator manufacturers there, the brothers picked a 421/2-ft. Quad 5 from Wil-Rich.

One reason for picking the Quad 5 was they needed a unit that would fold down small enough to fit in their machine shed. "We looked at Case's, but it just doesn't fold to the size we need," Jack says. And, the brothers wanted one that would allow residue to flow through.

"We do a lot of chiseling in cornstalks and have been amazed at how well this unit goes through the field," Jack says. "Its new C-shanks are narrower so there's less area and less resistance, which keeps soil and residue flowing smoothly through the tool."

A new feature is a floating hitch. Jack says it helps the unit stay in the ground when traveling over hills, and stays right where you set it to ensure accurate depth control.

Another feature they wanted, and like, is the unit's five-bar spike-tooth harrow on the rear of the implement. "You can get a three- or four-bar coil tine, but we like how the spike teeth break up clods and they're a little heavier," Jack adds.

"We had a Wil-Rich for 18 years and even after shopping at the show decided on getting another one. We're just impressed with how long they last," he says. "This one pulls a little easier, and it didn't cost much more than our old one. At least the price hasn't gone up as much as it has for tractors."

Base unit price: $16,848. For more information, contact Wil-Rich, Div. of TIC United Corp., Dept. FIN, Box 1030, Wahpeton, ND 58074, 701/642-2621 or circle 209.

Right time for no-till drill. Daryl Bridenbaugh had been renting a John Deere 750 no-till grain drill from his neighbor for the past six years. Last year, conservation subsidies and machinery pricing incentives caught Bridenbaugh's interest.

It was then he learned the price for Synchrony herbicide would be drastically reduced - about 75% - for '98. "I figured when they sell herbicide that cheap I may as well solid-seed my beans," Brindenbaugh says.

All this, plus the Roundup Ready bean phenomenon told him the time was right to buy a no-till drill.

"By using my neighbor's Deere drill, it had already become my favorite tool anyway. I've never had it plug up," he says. "People say you can even plant on asphalt with this unit because it has so much down pressure - I wouldn't doubt it."

Base list prices: $20,902 to $45,844. For more information, contact Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 211.

Serious snowblower. Without having to think twice, North Dakotan Bradley McIntosh from Hannah says his best purchase for 1997 was a Schulte 9600 snowblower.

"Remember the Grand Forks storm?" he asks. "Well, a week before that storm, we were hit with 60 mph winds and more snow than I've probably seen in my life - the snowdrifts were unbelievable."

McIntosh had been eyeing a Schulte snowblower for some time and told his father, whom he farms with, that when there was enough money, that's the one he'd get.

"Well, having the money - or not having the money - didn't even enter into the picture. Getting the snowblower was a matter of survival," McIntosh says.

The snowblower is 8 ft. wide with a 23-in.-dia. auger and a cutting height of 35 in.

"This machine just chewed through the drifts we had," he says. "It took 17 hours to clean up from that storm. We blew mud and gravel and threw rock-hard drifts just to get cleaned out."

He says the unit is made heavy enough to work in feedlots without having to worry about bending the fan and auger on frozen cow-pies. Suggested retail price: $3,026. For more information, contact Schulte Sales Ltd., Dept. FIN, Box 70, Hwy. 5, Englefeld, Saskatchewan, Canada S0K 1N0, 306/287-3155 or circle 212.

Hand pallet jack. Selling seed helps Steve Webb add money to his pocketbook. But with more and more supplies being delivered on pallets, this Needham, IN, farmer was fast running into material handling and storage problems. So he figured out his needs, shopped around and bought a Crown hand pallet truck.

"To unload trucks full of seed pallets, I use a tractor-mounted forklift," says Webb. "But once we get a pallet in the shed and on the ground, the tractor gets cumbersome."

Like Murphy's Law, Webb says he would always need something located behind where he had just set a stack of pallets. "It's just so much easier to move pallets with a hand jack in the storage area," he adds.

Webb suggests that if you buy one, remember that the length of the forks varies among makes and models, so be sure to get one with forks long enough for your needs.

Price: $445 for a standard unit. For more information, contact Crown Mfg., Dept. FIN, 40-44 S. Washington St., New Bremen, OH 45869, 419/629-2311 or circle 214.

Modified tree shearer. On Scott McPheeters farm in Gothenburg, NE, red cedar trees were fast encroaching on his pasture land. In fact, he says, it was an epidemic.

"I bought a P&W tree shearer to help control these trees," McPheeters says. "I spent around $1,600 to combat a problem that could have cost me thousands of dollars."

The unit mounts on a tractor's 3-pt. hitch. McPheeters had a local welding shop build a brushguard to protect the tractor cab from tree branches. Tree stumps up to 10 in. in dia. were cut as short as 1 in. from the ground.

"The labor required wasn't high because the operator was able to cut about three trees per minute with no downtime repairing saws," McPheeters claims. List price for an unmounted shear: $1,380. For more information, contact P & W Engineering, Dept. FIN, 101 Harding, Sedalia, MO 65301, 660/827-6131 or circle 223.