CONVERTING FROM 40-inch to 20-inch rows could save Wharton County, Texas, corn farmers Gerald and John Donaldson significant production expenses and increase yield by 10 to 20 percent.

It's a calculated risk that Gerald and his son believe will pay off, especially when grain prices improve from current lows.

"We're expanding acreage," Gerald says, "and we believe we can get across the land much faster with narrow rows and wider equipment."

They'll start with the 2001 crop, and it will not be a test. "We have to make it work," says Gerald. "We'll put all our anticipated 2,000 acres of corn in 20-inch rows. We can't justify investing in a narrow-row planter for just a few acres, so whatever tweaking we have to do to make this system work, we'll do. We are committed to the change."

They bought a slightly used John Deere split-row planter that seeds twenty-three, 20-inch corn rows or twelve 40-inch cotton rows. "We can lift up every other row unit," Gerald explains.

They did a lot of homework before deciding to make the switch.

"We looked at research from the Texas Blacklands Agricultural Experiment Station at Temple," Gerald says. "They have three years of data, a dry year, a normal year and a wet year, that show definite yield advantages with 20-inch rows. The dry year showed the greatest advantage, but in each year, narrow rows out-performed conventional."