In The Shop: Spring (Planter) Training

March 5, 2016 02:35 AM
In The Shop: Spring (Planter) Training

Customers are my best teachers, especially during planting season. Sometimes they learn from me, sometimes I learn from them. For example:

  • Customer A got a new no-till planter with all the latest bells and whistles. On the first day in the field it took us 20 acres to make the necessary adjustments based on field conditions. After harvest, he brought in yield maps showing a 10 bu. to 20 bu. yield decrease in that area. Plus, he said, prior to harvest, the corn in those 20 acres was severely lodged, almost flat in some places.

After studying his yield maps and various other maps recorded by his high-tech planting monitor, he traced the yield reductions to inadequate down pressure at planting. We started out with moderate down pressure to avoid packing the seed furrow walls. Because his no-till row units didn’t always penetrate deep enough when we first started, seed depth was inconsistent in that part of the field. That led to uneven emergence, which hurt yield, plus a lot of the seeds were shallower than desired and that led to issues with crown root development that caused late-season standability problems. The place on his yield maps where we increased down pressure and optimized seed depth matched exactly where his yields increased dramatically.

  • Customer B taught me how important “ride quality” can be when planting. His first conventionally tilled field of the year went well, with his seed monitor showing 99% singulation. But when he switched fields and started no-tilling into soybean stubble, singulation dropped to 92% to 95%. I went out and we made multiple adjustments with no success. As we rode along watching the monitor stubbornly display low singulation, with the bar on the cab door jabbing my side at every sway and bounce of the tractor, a thought dawned on me. I asked him to slow the tractor to 2 mph, and the door bar quit jabbing me in the side and singulation jumped to 98% or better. Long story short, he had knifed anhydrous into the soybean stubble that spring, and at 5.5 mph his planter units were experiencing a rough ride as they jostled across the raw knife marks. We adjusted his tined row cleaners a little deeper to smooth the ridges thrown by the anhydrous knives, and he was then able to plant at 5.5 mph and maintain 98% to 99% singulation.
  • Customer C complained his planter wouldn’t plant at a consistent depth. In a 4' length of row there were seeds planted 1" deep and seeds more than 3" deep. I checked all the planter adjustments, but it was only when I used the handles of my trusty pliers to check seed depth that comprehension dawned. The customer had knifed anhydrous into soybean stubble the previous fall at a very slight angle to the rows he was no-till planting that spring. The planter units were riding “high” on the firm untilled ground between anhydrous marks, then sinking into the soft soil of the knife marks and burying the seeds. He eventually had to run a field finisher over his soybean fields to homogenize the soil condition. 

Well into mid-June, the first field he planted had some cornstalks noticeably taller (shallow seeds that emerged more quickly) than other stalks (deep seeds that were slower to emerge). Although the shorter stalks were deeper green in color, they eventually caught up to their paler neighbors prior to tasseling because they were planted over the anhydrous knife marks. 

  • Customer D’s 30-year-old planter was persistently breaking drillshaft shear bolts. None of the usual suspects (bad driveshaft bearings) were found guilty. Only after removing all the ancient drive chains and reinstalling them one by one did we determine their cumulative resistance was enough to break the shear bolts. New chains and sprockets returned him to uninterrupted planting.  
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