Planting time is just about here- make sure that your planter is ready to go. Planter maintenance is especially important if you’re using a no-till or reduced till system. A well maintained planter can give your seeds the best chance possible. Below we’ve gathered a total of 24 tips from multiple sources that can help to ensure that your planter is prepped for the season.
ISU Extension Tips from Mark Hannah
Wallaces Farmer looked to a recent article on the topic from Mark Hannah, a retired Ag engineer from the Iowa State University Extension. Hannah provided 6 guidelines for last-minute planter maintenance.
- For reduced-till or no-till operations, getting the soil engagement right with the planter has become increasingly more important than it has been in the past. Planters create the furrow, place the seeds, and achieve adequate seed-to-soil contact in a single pass. Getting it all right is critical.
- Set a uniform seed depth that’s appropriate for the field conditions. Your planting depth should depend on moisture content of the soil in your fields. When soil is dry or has a coarse texture, deeper planting may be necessary to ensure that there’s enough moisture for the seeds to germinate.
- Check the double-disk seed openers. The seed opener makes a regular furrow, so you can get regular seed placement. If seed opener discs are worn or beveled, soil and crop residue can get into that furrow, which can make it challenging to get your seeds planted at the right depth. Make sure the disks are hitting the soil where you want and that they have a good bevel remaining. If you’re using row cleaners, you want them hitting the residue- not the soil. You want the cleaners operating about 3/4 of the time rather than constantly engaging in the soil.
- Consult the owner’s manual. The manual will have recommendations for planting in no-till or heavy residue. If you can’t find the manual, you can consult your dealer. You can also talk with other farmers in your area to see what planter settings work best for the soil type.
- Set the down pressure. Down pressure springs or pneumatic diaphragms transfer weight from the planter frame to the seed openers in order to penetrate the soil. You want just enough pressure to ensure that the gauge wheels are resting firmly on the surface. Less pressure means your seeds will be planted more shallow, more pressure compacts the soil near the furrow. Too much pressure or planting in soil that is too wet can compact the seed bed and make root growth difficult.
- Make necessary planter adjustments. Use your planter monitor and get off the tractor every once in awhile to check the seed depth, spacing and count.
Russ Quinn of DTNPF
Russ Quinn of DTNPF says Hannah’s article isn’t breaking news, but it serves as more of useful reminder as planting season is either here or quickly approaching. Quinn doesn’t list the various numbered tips like other articles do, but instead provides a more concise summary of the tips. Emphasis is given to checking things over, and getting down off the planter to ensure that everything is working as intended.
From my experience on our own farm, this last tip is one we have tried to do quite often.
The only way you really know how you are doing in planting is to stop and dig around in the soil to see. I know you can’t spend hours looking in the soil to see where the seeds are going, but even spending just a few minutes every once in a while is a good way to make sure everything is working like it’s supposed to be.
Hannah’s Calibration Tips
Like Wallaces Farmer, AgFax also covered Hannah’s article on planter prep. Anyone with new or unfamiliar equipment need to check that it’s operating correctly. If you don’t, you won’t be getting the best return on investment possible. Below is a checklist to follow in order to properly calibrate your planter.
- Check for the correct seed depth and soil penetration. Soil conditions can vary in different locations, so it’s important that operators check seed placement behind the planter for depth, spacing, and seed-to-soil contact.
- Knowing the optimum population is critical. It’s the only way you’re going to reach your yield potentials and get your money’s worth. Use your plant monitor, but also don’t be afraid to get down on the ground and check things out.
- Inspect the seed opener and adjust them for the conditions. Although you may have correctly set the depth adjustment to the depth you want, more down-pressure may be necessary in firm soil conditions for the seed opener to penetrate to desired planting depth.
- Also look at cover disk and pack wheel tension. Spring pressure may need to be increased or decreased depending on soil conditions.
Pennsylvania State University Extension’s Tips from Sjoerd Willem
AgFax also published an article this past January that provided planter maintenance tips to perform over the winter months. It consults recommendations from Pennsylvania State University Extension soil specialist Sjoerd Willem Duiker. Duiker provides a list of 14 recommendations, and there’s no doubt that many of them could still be performed this spring if you have yet to get out and plant.
- Meters. Metering units that aren’t operating correctly can result in skips, doubles and triples. It’s recommended to take them apart and clean them each winter. Clean the hoods with soapy water and replace cracked plastic covers and broken fingers. Check the finger tension, backplate and seed brushes for wear and tear. Clean the belt with soap and water. You can lubricate it with graphite. Your finger metering unit should be re-calibrated by the dealer every 150 acres. Don’t forget to check the vacuum or air-meter.
- Planter unit. Ensure they’re not loose or wobbly and appear to be at the same height. Check for loose bolts and add bushings if necessary. Replace cracked or broken seed hoppers.
- Seed opener disks. Check the minimum diameter. They should come together at the front. If disks are too worn they will make a “W” shaped slot instead of a “V.”
- Seed tubes. Wear can occur and they can curl inwards and catch seeds. Hooks about halfway up can sometimes break off. If seed tube guards don’t have the minimum width and fastened correctly, or they can damage the seed tube. Also clean the seed sensors if present.
- Seed firmers. These help press seeds into the furrow to help guarantee more accurate seed placement. Check for wear and the tension can be adjusted by a bolt.
- Depth wheels. These should run close to the disks. If they don’t adjustments to the washers can be made, or you might need a new depth wheel arm.
- Coulters. Check the diameter and replace as needed.
- Row cleaners. Check for wear and adjust and replace as needed.
- Closing wheels. Springs need to be checked for wear and replaced if necessary. Bearings shouldn’t be wobbly or too tight. The bottoms of the rubber closing wheels need to be 1.5-2 inches apart. The closing wheel arm shouldn’t have too much play.
- Alignment of coulters, row cleaners and closing wheels. Run a rope straight from the coulters to the closing wheels. Everything should be in line. Closing wheels shouldn’t run on top of the seed furrow.
- Insecticide boxes. There should be no holes or cracks and they need to be blown out with air.
- Fertilizer unit. Fertilizer opener disks should have a minimum diameter, bearings should be checked. Hang a bucket below the tube and do a test run out in the field.
- Chains and sprockets. Check tension and lubricate. If chain is stiff, replace.
- Check tire pressure.