HALL, N.Y. — One of the largest contributors to yield at the end of the season is getting seeds in the ground without issues and for them to germinate uniformly across the field, which all starts with the planter. Whether you practice full tillage, no-tillage, or anywhere in between, planter performance is the key for producing that picket-fence stand. While we are still in the cooler part of the spring, now is a great time to run through that checklist once more to ensure that your equipment is field ready when the opportunity strikes. Below is a list of some key areas to look over:
Metering System – This is the hardest working part of the planter, and therefore should be checked on a regular basis. Ideally, meters should be taken off and inspected every year. Remove any dirt that has accumulated over the season, and replace cracked covers where need be. In finger planters, check for worn or broken fingers that no longer pick up kernels, and replace springs that may be broken or missing. On air planters, check that the openings are not plugged or cracked, which can lead to poor vacuum. Look for any grooves or dents in the housing, as this will also cause issues. Replace any brushes that are worn and check to make sure the singulator is functioning correctly and can be adjusted. Any rubber belts or gaskets should be flexible and not dry-rotted. If you do not have time to check through your metering system, many companies offer service and can run your meters on a test stand.
Opening disks – If the metering system is the hardest working part of the planter, then the opening disks are certainly one of the most abused parts. This is because in most situations (no-till being an exceptions), these disks are the first point of contact that the row unit makes, and thus most susceptible to damage and wear from stones (or rocks, or boulders) and work to push the seed slot open. Therefore, it is important to check that the disks have not worn down under 14” in diameter, or to the standard set forth in your operator’s manual. Having the proper sized disks, along with proper shimming, should ensure that they touch along the leading edge, opening the soil into a perfect V shape. This leading edge should be touching for 2-3” or more, depending on the make of the planter. If the disks are not touching, the result is a W-shaped trench which allows seeds to fall to an uneven depth and leaves air pockets to dry out the seed when the closing wheels come through.
Seed Tubes and Firmers – Since the opening disks take the brunt of the work, drop tubes and firmers tend to be better protected; however can still be damaged over time. Any edges or cracks in these tubes can cause the seed to bounce and rattle as it drops from the planter, causing skips or doubles in the row. Firmers are now becoming an essential part of all planters, as they press that seed into the trench, ensuring good seed to soil contact. For folks running in-furrow treatments through firmers, be sure that all openings are clear and that liquid flows at a steady pace.
Coulters and Row Cleaners – As more producers move to reduced tillage systems, coulters and row cleaners on the front of planters have become an integral part to planter maintenance. Just like the opening disks, coulters need to be maintained at the proper size for proper function. Disks that are worn or broken need to be replaced, since their job is to make it easier for the opening disks to function. Row cleaners also need to function properly, and all bearings need to function in order to keep residue from piling under the row unit.
Fertilizer Units – Probably the area on the planter that get the least about of attention. Fertilizer disks should also have the proper diameter and depth setting to make sure that the starter band is place at an even 2” by 2” placement. Worn disks should be replaced, as well as wobbly and loose bearings. For dry fertilizer boxes, hang a bag or bucket under the drop tubes when you do your test run. Weigh the amount of fertilizer per 175 feet, and multiply by 100 to get the pounds per acre that the planter is putting down (at 30” row spacing). Also check that tubes are flexible and not cracked, as well as the tanks.
Chains and Sprockets – All chains and sprockets should be checked and lubricated so that they function properly every acre. Worn or loose chains should be replaced (removing a link may solve the problem for a year, but should be replaced in the off-season) and bearings should be greased and tight. Chain links that have ceased over time should be loosened or replaced, since these will cause the drive system to hiccup or come undone on the go. For folks that may be going back to using insecticide boxes, verify that chains are functioning properly and that they haven’t been removed (or if so are replaced with the proper lengths).
Insecticide Boxes – Affectionately called “Bug Boxes,” the proper application rate of insecticide all starts with proper calibration. When calibrating, be sure to run a longer segment (1000’ for example) to collect a measurable amount of granules. Shortening this distance by too much is often the reason for improper calibration. Check to make sure all drive systems operate and that tubes are flexible and clear of debris (or cobwebs).
Closing Wheels – In the final step of placing that seed, the closing wheels are crucial to proper seed-to-soil contact. Closing wheels come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure that you choose what works best on your soil types and conditions. Bearings need to be replaced if worn, and closing disks should be spaced 1.5-2” apart. Folks running spiked closing wheels need to make sure they are placed in the right direction, since reversing the leading edge can cause too much aggressiveness near the seed trench resulting in seeds being flung out of the soil.
By taking the time now to look over some key parts of the planter, a lot of headache and heartache can be spared during the season. Though many of these tasks can be done in the shop, verifying that everything is functioning properly while planting will also reduce the stress caused by a missed malfunction that results in planting disasters. And like a good athlete, stay hydrated with plenty of water, as this will help keep you functioning throughout the season, but also give you another reason to get up off the tractor seat to check the planter!
Associate Territory Manager
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