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Tune up!

02/23/2010 @ 8:20am

When Successful Farming magazine first funded planter accuracy research at North Dakota State University in the late 1980s, the cost of a bushel of seed corn was around $50 and yields were topping out around 160 to 180 bushels per acre.

Tune in Thursday, March 25 at 9/8 central, or Sunday, March 28 at 10/9 central on RFD-TV to see more in our Planter Tune up Special. Get more tips from Kevin Kimberley.

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At that time there was no doubt that a faulty seed meter could cut yields. Field research confirmed that inaccurate seed spacing (skips, doubles, and triples) sliced yields by 5 to 20 bushels an acre. Subsequent research confirmed that for every inch in spacing deviation, 2 1/2 bushels were lost in corn yield.

That rule of thumb still holds true.

So what has changed? The cost of seed and yield potential. Combined with tight operating margins, the need to push yields as never before has made yearly planter inspection, repair, and calibration a critical chore.

Yet Kevin Kimberley, the Planter Doctor, continues to see seed meters come into his shop in amazing disrepair. His field observations confirm that seed spacing and inaccurate depth placement are robbing farmers of yields.

Complicating the matter is the way today's seed coatings have a tendency to muck up a meter's accuracy. Seed shapes have changed as well, pushing farmers to fine-tune as they switch hybrids, Kimberley reports.


Planter Doctor Kevin Kimberley talks with Agriculture.com's John Walter about some of the trends he's seen in precision planting in the last year and what he sees ahead for the 2010 season.

He is particularly concerned that last spring's wet conditions abused planters as never before. Resulting maintenance problems, if left unattended this winter, are guaranteed to affect planter performance.

Kimberley knows of what he speaks. The Maxwell, Iowan has been inspecting, repairing, and calibrating seed meters for 30 years, and he has personally attended to the rehabilitation of thousands of meters in that time. In recent years, Kimberley has consulted with farmers in the field to gain expertise on faulty and misadjusted row units.

"I'm still amazed by farmers who fawn over their tractor but ignore planter maintenance," he notes. "Yet the planter has a far larger influence on yield."

This winter Kimberley gave a short course on planter performance, which serves as the 12-point inspection plan you'll find on the following pages. Put his advice to work this winter along with the detailed maintenance instructions in your planter's owner's manual.

You can watch Kimberley giving instructions on how to get planters to operate with dead-on accuracy. He appears in a 30-minute special on the Machinery Show February 25 at 8:00 p.m., February 26 at 10:00 a.m., and February 28 at 9:00 p.m. (all times Central) on RFD-TV.

When Successful Farming magazine first funded planter accuracy research at North Dakota State University in the late 1980s, the cost of a bushel of seed corn was around $50 and yields were topping out around 160 to 180 bushels per acre.