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In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Hot Rod Planter Units

Mar 09, 2013

 Remember, folks, this blog is one man's opinion based on one man's experiences and observations.

Having said that, here's my view on the advantages and disadvantages of "hot rodding" planter seed meters: the seed meters that come with ANY brand of modern planter do a pretty darned good job of metering and planting seed. Put them on a test stand, and if a meter doesn't plant 95 to 98 percent of the target population, something is wrong with the meter--generally something that can be fixed or adjusted. The unit may have skips or doubles as it reaches that target population, but most of those skips and doubles can be eliminated with adjustment. Remember--you can alternate skips and doubles every other drop but still achieve target population. Simply achieving target population isn't good enough any more. The Holy Grail of planting is now target population WITHOUT any skips or doubles.

Factory seed meters do a good job under ideal conditions. But when they're bouncing through a rough, cloddy field at 6.5 mph, planting ungraded or poorly graded seed, that's when planting accuracy takes a dive. If you ever have opportunity to watch a seed meter test stand in operation, while the machine is running on graded seed, pour in some ungraded seed, then kick or shake the test stand to simulate a rough field. Metering accuracy drops as seed grading quality and "ride" quality diminish.

Farmers can do a lot about ride quality. Smoother seedbeds, row cleaners that smooth the soil immediately in front of planter units, and ground speeds in the 4.8 to 5.5 mph range can easily improve seed meter performance by 5 percent without changing anything on the meter itself. 

The question that's been growing across the country for the past decade is whether or not there's a benefit to hot rodding seed meters. The theory is if a farmer replaces this component, tweaks that component and tightens this while loosening that, he can create a super seed meter.

Having run a few meters on a fairly sophisticated test stand, here's what I've observed. Any seed meter can do a good job with good seed and a good seedbed if the meter is properly set and properly operated. Ten years ago a farmer would have been delighted with the results.

Hot rodding seed meters, whether using the mainline manufacturer's hot rod parts, or using an aftermarket manufacturer's parts, can get seed meters pretty darned close to perfection with someone standing there adjusting vacuum and speed and other variables. If a farmer is willing to consistently monitor and tweak ground speed, vacuum, talc/graphite and other variables to match seed grading, seed size, the condition of the seedbed and other variables, then it's possible to plant corn with near-perfect seeding rates and spacing if he uses a hot-rodded seed meter.

But all that time and money invested in creating "perfect" seed meters goes out the window when planting is delayed, soil conditions are "rough" or the seed being planted is radically different from what the meter was calibrated for. Or if the seed only has 95 percent germination. I've dug in a lot of emerged corn fields, trying to determine why "the planter wasn't planting right," and discovered that the skips and gaps were from ungerminated seeds, seeds that sprouted and died, seeds that got ate by seed maggots, or other reasons that weren't the fault of the planter.

Bottom line of this man's opinion: modern planter seed meters, properly maintained and adjusted work darn good. Hot-rodded seed meters, whether hot-rodded with mainline manufacturer parts or aftermarket parts, take seed metering to near perfection--IF field conditions, operating speed, seed quality and the REST of the planter (chains, bearings, driveshafts, etc.) create an operating environment as near perfect as a seed meter test stand operating in somebody's shop.

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