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Planter performance checklist for maximum yields

This eight-point inspection plan ensures your planter is operating at 100% accuracy.

The stakes have never been higher. Bottom lines have bottomed out and commodity prices have flatlined.

There is little you can do about the economy.

But there is much you can do with your planter to maximize yields.

The impact a worn and misadjusted planter has on yield is well documented. Variations from ideal spacing and depth slash corn yields from 7 to 25 bushels, a recent study conducted by AGCO finds. “And, in some cases, yield losses tip over 30 bushels,” adds Kevin Kimberley, Successful Farming’s Planter Doctor.

If you haven’t already, inspect your planter for wear and tear starting with double disk openers ending with packer wheels using your planter’s owner manual as a guide. Kimberley, who has over 35 years of experience calibrating planters and consulting with farmers, offers this eight-point-plan for peak planter performance.

1. SEED METER

Regardless of meter type, completely disassemble each meter cleaning all parts using compressed air. Kimberley notes that you will likely have to use a spray surface solvent. “Simple soap and water often isn’t adequate to remove graphite and seed coatings adhering to the meter’s surface. If you don’t remove buildup, it gets progressively worse, plugging holes in meters or impacting the ability of seals to maintain contact.”

After cleaning, examine all the working parts of the meter looking for wear and tear using your planter’s owner’s manual as a guide.

When it comes to finger pickup-style meters, Kimberley automatically replaces certain parts like brushes, belts, and their idlers each year. “During your examination look for a warped baffle or elevator housing wear and determine if they need to be replaced. Buff away any and all rust that may have developed on metal surfaces.”

Pay particular attention to the meter’s face place looking for wear. “Replace the plates when the wear is into the second layer of metal to prevent overplanting. If I replace the plate, I normally also replace the finger pickups at the same time.”

Check the seed conveyor belts for worn paddles or cracks. “You want the belts to be pliable. And check their drive holes to see if they have elongated from working with the pulley.”

With pneumatic meters, the most challenging issue you will face is removing seed treatment from plastic parts as “it adheres to plastic like glue,” Kimberley has found. Pneumatic meter components that require particular attention for wear include:

  • Seals, which are crucial to maintain accurate vacuum.
  • Meter disks. (“They can wear far more than farmers realize.”)
  • Brushes. (“I usually replace them every year. If still in good condition, then clean thoroughly by brushing out the strands.”)
  • Lids and housing. (“They can warp from heat with time.”)

2. DOUBLE DISK OPENERS

Sharp disk opener blades provide more even depth control and thus more even emergence. Change disk opener blades when they wear down to 14¼ inches in diameter (most disk diameters start at 15 inches). If you are not replacing disks, then consider sharpening existing blades if they are worn. Finally, measure the length of where the double disks touch each other at their leading edges. The two disks should should contact 1¾ to 2¼ inches at their leading edge. 

3. DEPTH GAUGE WHEELS

With the planter in transport position, grab depth gauge wheels and turn them to check for “operating slop, indicating worn eccentric bearings,” Kimberley advises. “Loose gauge wheels won’t press against disk openers, which is crucial to forming a true V-furrow. If bearings are sound but the wheel is loose, adjust its eccentric bearing so the wheel makes solid contact with the full diameter of the opener disk.”

Finally, check for sharp lips on the wheels (where they contact the disk opener), which is needed to form the seed furrow. Worn wheels must be replaced.

4. SEED TUBES

Seed tubes are often ignored because they’re so well hidden. But you really need to remove tubes every year and examine them for wear. “Frequently, worn tubes will have a small dog-ear flap of plastic at the bottom,” Kimberley explains. “Remove that dog ear. Really, any significant wear calls for new seed tubes.” While you have the tubes out, look at them lengthwise to determine if they are straight. “I’ve even found brand-new tubes that are curved. A warped tube causes seed ricochet, leading to spacing problems.”

5. DRIVE SYSTEM

Every component on the entire drive system (including the transmission) should be examined – chains or cables, sprockets, idlers, clutches and their bushings or bearings. “Replace overly rusty, stiff, or kinked chains,” Kimberley urges. “A faulty chain can set up a vibration that affects meter accuracy, especially for hard-to-plant seed sizes.”

For cable drives, remove the unit and turn the cable to see if it’s rotating smoothly. “After inspection and parts replacement, we like to operate the drive in the shop and watch all the components in action to see if they are operating smoothly or need adjustment,” Kimberley says.

6. PARELLEL LINKAGE

It may appear 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) and whether row units rise and fall at an angle (an indication of twisted linkage).

Wear in the bushings or loose bolts increases the chatter in your row unit, which also increases the play in your parallel linkage. Worn bushings cause a unit not to run level, which increases seed bounce.

Finally, check down pressure springs for tension or the fittings on air bags for leaks. When checking for air leaks, take a spray bottle of soapy water to spray on fittings (most likely to leak) and bags (less likely to leak).

7. PACKING WHEELS

Of all major planter components, closing (packing) wheels are the most often overlooked maintenance part. “Yet they have a huge impact on seed-to-soil contact, which greatly promotes rapid emergence,” Kimberley explains. As such, he recommends examining the closing wheel assembly for looseness where its arms connect to the row unit. “Grab the assembly and move it up and down and from side to side to check for slop,” he says. “This could indicate worn bearings, bushings, or cams.”

Spin closing disks (if your planter is so equipped) and press wheels, listening for noise, which indicates worn bearings. Also, 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 explains. “Eventually they get out of alignment, and the wheels won”t press down on either side of the furrow.” 

Finally, check the distance between packer wheels and shim for correct gap. “You may have to shim out the wheels to get them to the right gap. Your planter’s owner manual can guide you with that chore.”

8. TIRES, HYDRAULICS, ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

“There is nothing more time-consuming than repairing a tire during planting,” Kimberley says. So inspect all the tires and check their pressure. “Write inflation pressures on rims so that there is no doubt as to their air needs during the season. Make it a habit to check inflation daily,” he adds

Examine all hydraulic lines for abrasion and kinks. Sometimes worn hoses collapse during planting. This reduces flow to blowers or vacuum motors.

Finally, inspect electrical lines for bare wiring and use an electrical cleaner on all connections.

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