Planters that left the shed polished, oiled and tuned to perfection are often battle-weary by the time the final field passes beneath their wheels. The rush to get crops in the ground can create wear and other problems that subtly degrade planter performance during the course of the planting season.
Reduced yields are often blamed on delayed planting dates, but poor stands and uneven emergence due to planter malfunctions can contribute to disappointing yields from late-planted fields. Here are some tips:
- Every once in a while, when all of the seed boxes are empty, open all of the seed meters and visually and manually check that seed meters and delivery systems are operating freely. The strings or labels from seed bags can wrap around the driveshafts of seed meters and interfere with seed movement through the meter. Small rocks tossed from gravel roads by the tires of pickups pulling seed tenders mysteriously get transferred to planter seed hoppers or tanks, where they plug seed tubes or damage seed meters. Believe it or not, I’ve found pens wedged in seed meters that fell from farmers’ shirt pockets while they were filling seed boxes.
- If seed meters aren’t seated squarely over the top of their seed delivery tube, random seeds from the meter may miss the tube and fall alongside the tube and land on the ground surface beside the seed furrow. Clues of misalignment are seeds "riding" on flat surfaces of the row unit beneath the seed meter and occasional seeds on the ground. Reasons for misalignment include bent meter mounting brackets, damaged top ends of seed tubes and row units bent by passing over large rocks.
- If row cleaner bearings don’t turn freely, they can drag furrows that disrupt accurate seed placement and depth. Tine-type row cleaners are magnets for baling twine, seed bag strings and labels, electric fencing wire, old horseshoes and other field debris that jams or prevents the free-wheeling necessary for them to operate correctly. Once a day, walk across the front of the planter and use the toe of your shoe to spin each row cleaner to make certain it spins freely.
- Disk openers with bad bearings wobble on their shaft and are unable to create a uniform, V-shaped seed furrow, or they can lock up and drag, creating a ragged seed furrow. Seed depth and, therefore, emergence timing is degraded. Walk behind a planter and tap each disk opener with a hammer. Odd-sounding "clunks" or an actual rattle when the hammer strikes are hints that it’s time for repairs.
- The sharp edges of gauge wheel tires should "squeegee" the sides of disk openers. If wear or damage creates a gap between the gauge wheel tire and the side of the disk opener, dirt crumbles into the seed furrow and disrupts seed depth. At least two or three times during planting season, with the planter in planting position, visually check to make certain all gauge wheel tires are within 1⁄16" or less of their disk opener.
- Closing wheels that don’t spin freely have a tendency to plug easily with clods, small rocks or root balls. Closing wheels that have frozen bearings drag furrows that can uncover seeds, especially in soybeans and shallow-planted crops. Once a day, walk behind the planter while it is up and out of the soil to check for damaged bearings.
- Because planter driveshaft and drillshaft bearings don’t spin quickly, they don’t self-destruct when they fail in a way that is visually obvious. They just get stiff, turn hard and cause mysterious skips and jumps that don’t show up on the planter monitor but that reveal themselves as poor seed spacing after the crop emerges. Test your driveshaft and drillshaft bearings by putting a wrench on each section of the hexagonal shaft of the planter and giving it a half-turn forward and a half-turn backward. Noticeable differences in the force necessary to turn various shafts on a planter are a hint that there’s a need for exploratory mechanical surgery to identify failing bearings.
Dan Anderson, “In the Shop” blogger and Farm Journal columnist, has taken part in nearly 40 planting season as a farmer or equipment dealership mechanic.