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12-point plan to pinpoint planting

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1. Tires

Tires are the most often ignored planter components – until they go flat. Even if they don't go flat, underinflated tires affect how well row units are able to maintain precise depth placement and can jeopardize level planter operation. Inspect all tires and their rims prior to planting. “In case they caught a rock last season and got dinged,” Kimberley says. Check inflation pressures at least once a week during the season. Write inflation pressures on tire rims for quick reference.

2. Attachments

By nature of having been added to the planter, attachments are often overlooked in preseason maintenance. “When they go on a planter, they become integral to the implement's ability to perform,” Kimberley says. Blades should be sharpened (if designed as such) both prior to planting and, if necessary, during the season. Inspect attachment frames and mountings to determine if they were damaged during the previous year. “Confirm that attachments are in alignment with the row unit. You'd be surprised how often this is overlooked when they are originally mounted on the toolbar,” he says.

3. Planter balance

Leveling a planter side to side and front to back is crucial to row-unit performance. “Be sure that the toolbar tilts slightly backward when it has been lowered into its operating position,” Kimberley says. “Make this correction before you make any depth adjustments on attachments and row units.”

4. Hydraulic and electrical systems

Like tires, hydraulic hoses and electrical lines and connectors are often ignored during a preseason inspection. “Hydraulic hoses do wear, especially where they bend (from folding the planter, for example),” Kimberley explains. “Such a bend can weaken the hose, causing it to maybe collapse and affect meter pressure (if it supplies the orbit motor propelling the air pump) or transmission speed (if the planter is not ground driven).” Examine all hoses as well as electrical lines (for bare wiring) and their connections (cleaning them with a solution made for electrical components).

The planter doctor is in

Kevin Kimberley bought his first seed meter calibration stand in 1980. Since then, he has rebuilt and calibrated thousands of meters. That experience plus extensive field research and work with farmers helped him develop a sixth sense for what ails planters.

Today, Kimberley serves as a private consultant specializing in planter and tillage performance and is based out of his farm near Maxwell, Iowa. He offers seminars on those topics during the winter or summer. To contact him, call 515/967-2583 or email hkfeedlot@juno.com.

Kimberley leads a planter short course on RFD-TV exposing planter problems he's discovered over the past 30 years during two upcoming 30-minute television specials on the Machinery Show. The first program, which covers seed meter malfunctions, airs February 9 at 8:00 p.m., February 10 at 10:00 a.m., and February 12 at 9:00 p.m. The second program, which covers the 12-point plan featured here, airs February 17 at 8:00 p.m., February 18 at 10:00 a.m., and February 20 at 9:00 p.m. All times are Central.

If you still want more, go to www.agriculture.com and check out the Planter Performance Short Course for greater details on planter inspection, repair, and field adjustment.

5. Transmission

Every component on the entire drive system should be examined with particular attention paid to sprockets, clutches, and all bushings and bearings.

6. Down-pressure springs or air bags

Down-pressure springs lose tension over time, which affects a row unit's ability to maintain accurate depth placement. “Check each spring to determine if it has lost tension. All the springs on a row unit should have the same tension. Otherwise, this can lead to wear on one side of your linkage,” Kimberley says.

Double-check your down-pressure adjustment all during the season. Stop the planter in the ground and visit each double-disk opener. Check to see if you can easily spin the depth gauge wheels by hand and break the furrow sidewall with gentle pressure from your finger about ¾ inch away from its edge. These situations indicate that you don't have enough down pressure and you need to adjust accordingly. On the other hand, if you can't turn the depth gauge wheels by hand, you have too much pressure.

Air bags rarely present repair issues. But their connections can spring leaks in time from vibration and hoses becoming brittle. “With the air bags inflated and with a spray bottle full of soapy water, walk down the planter and spray every connection. If bubbles appear, then you know you need to replace the hose,” Kimberley says.

7. Drive chains and sprockets or cables

With chain drives, be sure to operate the planter's drive system (using a planter stand) in order to examine the movement of every chain. “You are looking for smooth operation and in-line alignment between sprockets,” Kimberley says. Replace worn sprockets and chains without thought for their cost. “A faulty chain can set up vibration that affects meter accuracy, especially for hard-to-plant seed sizes.” Drive cables, known for their durability, can become worn in time. To check them, remove each cable and turn it by hand, feeling for rough rotation (an indicator of wear). Examine the ends for wire fraying since this can compromise smooth rotation.

8. Parallel linkage

It appears little can go wrong with parallel linkage arms. Yet, their bushings do wear (sometimes to the point of elongating mounting holes), and their arms can bend or twist, particularly if you plant on sidehills, through waterways, or over washouts caused by rain. “This jeopardizes depth placement,” Kimberley says. Evaluate linkage by grasping the row unit (from behind) and moving it up and down and from side to side. Look for sloppy motion at the mounting points (an indication of worn bushings) or if row units rise and fall at an angle (an indication of twisted linkage).

9. Double-disk openers

Measure the diameter of all double disks. If the result is close to or greater than ½ inch less than their original size, replace the disks. Next, examine their edges for sharpness. “Worn openers create W-shape furrows rather than the preferred V-shape bottom,” Kimberley says. “Dull openers tend to ride up on the soil, compromising depth placement.” Grab the disks to see if they are solid (not wobbling) and spin them, listening for bearing wear. Check that they make contact with each other for a full 1¾ inches for thick-gauge disks and 2¼ inches for thin-gauge disks. This contact should occur where the disks engage the soil. “I check disk contact by slipping business cards between the disks from the top and the bottom of the contact point and then measuring the distance between the cards,” he notes.

10. Depth gauge wheels

With the planter in transport position, grab the gauge wheels and turn them by hand to check for “operating slop, which indicates worn eccentric bearings,” Kimberley says. “Loose wheels won't press against disk openers, which is crucial for forming a true V-shape furrow and directly jeopardizing depth placement. If bearings are sound but the wheel is loose, adjust its eccentric bearing so it makes solid contact with the full diameter of the disk.” Check for sharp lips on the wheels, which are needed to form the seed furrow.

11. Closing disks and press wheels

Spin closing disks (if your planter is so equipped) and press wheels, listening for noise, which indicates worn bearings. Examine the press wheel assembly to determine if it is bent or cracked. “Planting on a curve or on hillsides can put pressure on mountings, causing undue wear on one side,” Kimberley says. “Eventually they get out of alignment, and the wheels won't press down on either side of the furrow.” Also, check for worn bearings, bushings, or cams. “Grab the assembly and move it up and down and from side to side to check for slop,” he says.

12. Row-unit alignment

The final touch to planter prep is to double-check that the entire row unit is in alignment. “You can do this by setting the planter on a flat concrete surface and then pulling it ahead 20 feet,” Kimberley says. “The scratch marks left by the disk openers need to run down the center of the press wheels.” Or, you can invest in a 1200 Series Checker, an alignment tool sold by Yetter Manufacturing (www.yetterco.com).

Make it a point to examine unit alignment several times during the season. “I've found that alignment and a level toolbar position can change in the field,” Kimberley says. “So when you are checking seed-depth placement, step back and look at row-unit alignment. If the packer wheels are not rolling equidistant on either side the furrow, you know you have a problem.”

A 9-Point Plan For Meter Maintenance

Kevin Kimberley and a host of other planting experts go into greater detail on inspecting, repairing, and calibrating meters at the online Planter Performance Short Course at www.agriculture.com. To get you started in meter maintenance, Kimberley offers his nine-point must-do guide.

1. Dust off your planter's owner's manual and religiously follow all of its maintenance recommendations.

2. Remove all graphic buildup and seed treatment that have accumulated on the internal working parts and surfaces. “Seed treatments, in particular, stick like glue and take work to remove. But they can jeopardize meter accuracy,” Kimberley says.

3. Buff out all surface rust on all pickup meters' internal surfaces and moving parts, paying close attention to the carrier plate.

4. Replace brushes, belts, and idlers on pickup meters and all brushes on pneumatic units every year. “Don't consider the cost – just replace them,” Kimberley says.

5. Examine the baffles, elevator housing, driver wheels, spring pins, and bearings in pickup meters.

6. Check pneumatic meters for wear on the contact surfaces of seals, meter disks, brushes, lids, and housings. “I prefer to just replace brushes every year,” says Kimberley. “And housings can warp from heat with time.

7. Match each pneumatic disk with the meter it operated with in the previous year. “Disks wear with use, creating a custom-fit to their meter. Mixing disks can lead to leaks,” he says. “Mark the position of the disk relative to its retainer with a stripe so the disk is reinstalled in the same position each time.”

8. Remove all seed tubes. Look at them lengthwise to determine if they are straight. “I've even found brand-new tubes that are curved,” Kimberley says. “A warped tube causes seed ricochet, leading to spacing problems.” Examine the tube for wear. “Many times worn tubes will have a dog-ear flap of plastic that needs to be removed. Any significant wear of the tube sidewalls calls for replacement.”

9. Clean the eyes of the monitor sensor in all tubes and inspect cast guards for wear.

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