The planter is the most important piece of equipment that growers own. It is the tool that sets the trajectory of their profits for the season. If planting is done to perfection, the sky is the limit for profitability. If it’s just a process we do to cover acres, our ceiling has been set and we will be playing catch up the rest of the season. Believe it or not, but 75% of the yield for a field is dictated by the time the planter pulls into the field to the time it pulls out. This fact is why growers should spend most of their time in the offseason making sure their planter operates at peak performance from begging to end. I’m going to highlight a few areas that play a big role in determining yield.
When planting is done take your meters apart, clean them and look for any area that is abnormally worn. If possible have your meters calibrated every two to three years to make sure they are in top condition.
Disk openers is the next place I would inspect. The disk openers prepare the seed bed where the seed will be placed. If they are off the seed is not placed where we want and germination could be reduced.
To ensure that a perfect “V” is made there needs to be 2-3 inches of contact between the disk openers. This can be checked by using two business cards, one started from the top, one from the bottom until they stay by themselves, then measure the distance between them. The diameter of the disk opener is important in determining the true depth where the seed is placed.
Most disk openers when new are 15” and should be replaced when they get below 14.5”. If you have coarse soils or plant over 2,000 acres you will want to replace your disk openers sooner, around 14 5/8”.
After inspecting the disk openers I would check how level the planter runs. To do this, hook up the planter as you would if you were planting, take out to a field, put it in the ground and drive 50-75 feet, then slowly stop the tractor. When this is done go back and check level at four spots on the planter. First check the transport (tongue) toolbar, this can be done best with a 4’ level. You want the planter to be level with the ground to slightly pointed up. If it is not where it should be, go back to the tractor and adjust 2-point or hydraulics to get it where it needs to be. Once the main toolbar is level go back to the row unit toolbar and check level on each side and middle, this can be done with a torpedo level. This toolbar should have the same or similar attitude as the toolbar you already checked.
Chains and Sprockets are the next location to inspect. If your planter has chains, specifically row unit chains, they need to be looked at very closely. If there is a kink or a stuck link that is in the chain, every time that comes around it could cause a double, skip, or spacing issue. The growers that take planter prep to the nth degree actually replace row unit chains every year. It is a small price to pay to ensure planter performance and seed placement. All chains should be inspected and lubed as well as looking for even wear on all sprockets. If sprockets aren’t wearing evenly replace and look at adjustment.
Gauge Wheels are one of the most important parts of planters because they are what is used to set the depth at which the seed is placed. How you set them will vary based on the make of the planter. The true depth will also vary on wear on the gauge wheel arm. If there is over ¼” wear on the arm where it meets the “mustache”, the arm needs to be flipped to the other side. Example, if the gauge wheel arm comes off the right side of row 6, it can be flipped and put on the left side. If this has already been done, the gauge wheel arm needs to be replaced. If a grower wants to get the most out of their planter, they can index their planter. This is somewhat complicated to explain, but I can describe it in person. The gauge wheel also needs to be shimmed or adjusted so that wheel runs tight against the disk opener. This helps to clean the disk opener and once again maintain depth.
The last mechanical part I will talk about is row cleaners. Row cleaners are an important part on a planter because they remove residue from the row. If residue makes it into the seed trench it can greatly reduce germination and or emergence. Residue in the trench acts as a wick, in a dry planting season it removes needed moisture from the seed. In a wet planting season it wicks more moisture to the seed and can also be a starting point for diseases.