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Planter Preparation For Peak Performance

There are a number of steps involved in preparing for the upcoming crop season. One of the most important each year is prepping the planter to ensure it’s ready to roll as soon as the ground is fit. Fortunately much of this work can be completed well ahead of time, but there are some critical elements of your planter’s performance that can only be assessed in the field.  The following are key elements of your planter that need to be checked prior to planting:




 In the shop:    

  • Gauge Wheels – your gauge wheels should have good contact with the disk openers. To check this, lift up on the gauge wheels to place them in the planting position, the gauge wheel should move upward unobstructed, but also have no gap between itself and the opening disk. If there is a gap, it provides an opportunity for dry soil to fall into the seed trench, and will result in uneven emergence.
  • Disk Openers – replace your disk openers when they wear down more than 1/2 inch from the original diameter or if they become bent or warped. To check alignment, slide a business card between the disks from the bottom and another from the top until the card gets stuck. Mark the distance between the two cards on the disks (typically 2” for most planters – refer to your owner’s manual). Rotate the disks a quarter turn, and check again. Continue until you have been around the entire disk, ensuring that all of the measurements are uniform. If they aren’t uniform, adjust the alignment by moving shims from the inside of the disk to the outside, or vice-versa.
  • Seed Tubes – inspect the bottoms of the seed tube for wearing. If the plastic side walls begin to wear through, you risk poor seed to soil contact, and uneven seed depth placement. Inspect the tube guards and consider replacing them as well if your seed tubes are showing wear.
  • Seed Firmers – If you are using seed firmers, the bottom side of the firmer should be flat, not rounded. Also check the tension to ensure there is some flex, but not overly whippy.
  • Parallel Rocker Arms – check to ensure that the bolts on your rocker arms aren’t worn out. Lift at the back of the row unit and watch for any sloppiness at the rocker arm connections. Replace with new bolts and or bushings if there is sloppiness.
  • Seed Meters – seed meters can vary greatly by brand and style. If using mechanical finger pickups, open your meters to ensure that no fingers are broken, and the belt is in good condition. For vacuum planters, check to ensure that all air ports are open and any brushes aren’t worn down.

In the Field:

  • Row Cleaners – if you are running row cleaners on your planter, be sure to check and adjust them at each field. Row cleaners are meant only to remove soil clods and crop residue, not as tillage tools. If they are set too aggressively, they will remove soil, and create a furrow that you will then be planting into, moving your seeding depth down into wetter soils. If they run too shallow, they’ll leave residue and clods in your seed path which will affect performance.
  • Planter level – check the levelness of your planter at the main toolbar. The main toolbar should run level to the ground when the planter is in the ground. Adjust the hitch if necessary to get the planter back into level. If the planter isn’t running level, it affects the angle of the seed tubes, and pressure on row cleaners and closing wheels.

As the old adage goes, “any job worth doing is worth doing well”. This is always true at planting time, because we only get one good  shot. Maximize your crops potential by ensuring your planter is in peak condition.