Adjust planters to reach peak yields

Weeks of cold wet weather have farmers across the Midwest chomping at the bit to put seed in the ground. But as strong as the urge is to get some acres under your belt, invest some time operating and then adjusting your planter for premium performance. Doing so will not only improve your stand, which eventually boosts yields, but can also prevent breakdowns during the season.

Take The Planter On A Test Run

First thing after hitting the field, take the planter on a test run operating it for a short distance. Stop with the row units still in the soil.

Using a common shop level, you need to adjust the planter “making sure that the toolbar is at the proper height and leveled front-to-rear, perhaps even slightly tail down,” explains University of Nebraska engineer Paul Jasa. “This allows for the full range of movement of the parallel links on the row units and aids in seed-to-soil contact. If the toolbar is too high, the down-pressure system can become ineffective. If the toolbar is too low, you may overload the down-pressure system by overextending its components.”

Next, check that the planter’s carrying wheels are centered between the row units and carrying some weight.

Now, try blind planting without seed in the planter (as this represents the lightest the planter will be during use). Again, stop the planter and check if the depth gauge wheels are in firm contact with the soil. “You need to check each of the row units,” urges Successful Farming magazine’s Planter Doctor Kevin Kimberley, “as there can be down-pressure differences between rows that this evaluation will reveal. If a set of depth gauge wheel are spinning, then you’ll need to adjust that row’s down pressure.”

Next, check to see that the planter’s drive wheels (if your planter utilizes drive wheels) are in firm contact with the soil. “What might be happening is that row units’ down-pressure systems are lifting the planter up,” Jasa explains.

The solution to this is adding weight to the planter’s toolbar. “I’ll guarantee you will need to do that on larger planters,” Kimberley adds.

Start Digging Up Seed

Using a small amount of seed, plant a short distance checking for seeding depth, seed-to-soil contact, seeding depth, and seed spacing. 

This is also a good time to check the bottom of the seed trench to see that the seed is in good contact with the soil eliminating air spaces at the bottom of the trench. It is important to use the least possible amount of down pressure to create correct seed-to-soil contact, Kimberley observes.

Iowa State University field research found that the planter’s down-pressure setting has a huge impact on seed emergence depending on soil conditions. In moist or wet soil, corn emerged more rapidly with a low down-pressure load (40 to 110 pounds). In dry soil, corn emerged faster with a heavy load (over 200 pounds).

That research also discovered that even though the planter depth settings were the same, seeds were planted nearly ½ inch deeper when the (down pressure) load was heavier.

Stop During The Season

After the planter is set with your initial field trial, Kimberley urges you stop every so often during the season and check the key components and settings mentioned above. “Field and soil conditions will change during the season,” he explains. “So planter settings need to change accordingly. Also, a planter can get worn or get out of adjustment from use during the season.”

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