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Make preseason adjustments to an empty planter

Calibrating meter units is crucial to picture-perfect stands. But equally important is adjusting the planter to the field. "And don't load it with seed," warns Paul Jasa of the University of Nebraska. "Evaluate planters empty so seed weight won't influence adjustments."

Check the planter's performance by evaluating the four functions of seeding equipment. By checking residue cutting and handling, soil penetration, seed-to-soil contact, and seed-vee closing, one can make the adjustments or modifications necessary to solve any problems encountered. There is plenty of time to make adjustments or buy attachments, if needed, before planting begins.

With any piece of equipment, the owner's manual is the starting point for the initial settings and for making any adjustments. Valuable recommendations and trouble-shooting tips are in the manuals and also available from others who own and operate similar equipment.

Take planters to the field as soon as conditions permit. Once there, check that the toolbar is at the right height (approximately 20 inches) and running level front-to-rear or "maybe slightly tail down," Jasa adds. This adjustment allows parallel linkage to have a full range of movement and helps keep the planter on the row.

Once the planter is leveled, try blind planting with empty seed boxes. Stop with the units in the ground to see if the depth gauge wheels as well as the metering drive wheel are in firm contact with the soil. If the guage wheels are loose, tighten the downpressure springs and recheck performance. Add weight to the toolbar if the meter drive wheels spin with the planter down.

Finally add a small amount of seed to box and operate again to evaluate seed-to-soil contact and seed-vee closing. However, all these items should be rechecked when actual planting begins and as conditions change during the planting season

Finally, add a small amount of seed to boxes and plant for real to check the seed-to-soil contact and seed-vee closing. "You need to recheck all these function when planting begins as well as throughout the season," Jasa urges.

Check the double-disk seed-furrow openers for proper adjustment. The two blades should be sharp, without a gap between them to effectively cut residue and prevent soil from getting between them. Blades mounted side-by-side should have about two inches of contact. Staggered seed-furrow openers should have the rear blade tucked in behind and just touching the leading blade. When blades are adjusted properly, coulters or residue movers are not needed for no-till.

To penetrate to the desired seeding depth, downpressure springs may be needed to transfer weight from the toolbar to the row units. There must be sufficient weight on the units to keep the depth gauge wheels in firm contact with the soil. There needs to be enough total weight on the toolbar to keep the seed metering drive wheels from slipping since the springs are "lifting" the toolbar especially when the planter is nearly empty.

Level the planter in the field, making sure that the toolbar is at the proper height so that the parallel links connecting the row units to the toolbar are level. Leveling in the field is especially important if there are any ridges in the field from cultivation last year or if the tractor tires sink into soft, tilled ground. To improve seed-to-soil contact, operate the planter slightly tail-down by raising the hitch point on pull-type planters or by lengthening the third link on mounted planters.

Check the closing of the seed furrow by first evaluating seed-to-soil contact, not the top of the seed-vee. As long as the contact is there, do not increase the closing force on the press wheels because this can over-compact the soil and reduce the stand. An attachment or harrow may be needed to finish closing the seed-vee.

Also check the seed depth and seed spacing on each row. When using angled closing wheels, make sure that the corn seeds are planted about 2 inches deep (1.5 inches for soybeans and grain sorghum) to avoid over-compacting below the seed.

Pioneer agronomist Tom Hall also offers this checklist of planter tune-up and maintenance chores:

Check all chains for tightness and wear.
Lubricate all chains and grease fittings as per owner's manual

Check all bearings for rolling resistance

Check tire pressure for proper inflation as low pressure will cause higher planting rates.

Check all sprockets and gears for wear

Check sprocket setting for the population you intend to plant

Adjust travel speed as you change seed size and population

Make sure seed drop tubes are clean and clear

Clean seed tube sensors

Check the seed monitor

Check alignment of coulters and double-disk openers

Calibrating meter units is crucial to picture-perfect stands. But equally important is adjusting the planter to the field. "And don't load it with seed," warns Paul Jasa of the University of Nebraska. "Evaluate planters empty so seed weight won't influence adjustments."

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