Keep Your Planter in Tip-Top Shape

March 6, 2017 12:22 PM

You only get one chance at planting—get it right

Between you and picket fence stands and photocopy plants stands your planter. To get your crop off on the right start, spend these last few days and weeks before rolling checking every part and piece.

“It all comes down to ear count so don’t let that be a yield-limiting factor,” says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. “Every 1,000 ears per acre lost costs 5 bu. to 7 bu., and this year that could be your profit margin. In a low-residue rotation, such as corn after soybeans, your average ear count should be within 1,200 of your plant count.” 

While it’s best to do a thorough inspection from hitch pin to closing wheels, at a minimum, focus on seed meters, transmission system, disk openers, gauge wheels and seed tubes.

“The first place I’d consider spending money is seed meters, which help ensure picket fence stands,” Bauer says. “New meter technology has come a long way. If you haven’t already done so, update your seed meters.”

“Nothing is more responsible for pushing the seed walls apart and clearing the way for seed than disk openers,” says Karl Huebner, integrated solutions manager for Huston Inc., a Kentucky-based company. “It’s always a good ROI to replace them if they’re worn.”

Depth gauge wheels must be set firmly against the double-disk openers. If they’re loose, dirt can sneak in and then fall into the seed trench, Bauer says. “If you drop dry soil on top of the seed, you’ll have problems with uniform germination and emergence, which hurts ear count,” she explains.

Look beyond the disk openers and gauge wheels to the seed tube guards. “Seed tube guards are your third line of defense in some ways,” Huebner says. “The seed tube guard pushes down the ‘W’ to allow seeds to sit on level ground.”

When you head to the field for the first time to plant corn, check if the planter is level on the main toolbar while the planter is in the ground and moving forward.  

“You can spend a lot of time and money on your planter in the shop, but if it’s not level it will cancel the effect of everything you’ve done,” Bauer says. “Place a magnetic level on the main toolbar and walk alongside the planter and watch the bubble as someone else drives the tractor.”

If you find it’s unlevel, adjust the hitch height up or down to avoid misplaced seeds.

In each field, check planting depth, row cleaners, down pressure and closing wheels to create a uniform microenvironment around the seed.

“The biggest temptation for growers we’ve seen so far this year is trying to put off a lot of the necessary maintenance for their planter while hoping for the same output as previous years,” Huebner says. “That’s just unrealistic expectations for the machine.”

In-Field Adjustments

Click here for a printable version of the checklist for the field

Level Planter

  • Adjust hitch height up or down to level the main toolbar (should be 20" from bottom of frame to planting surface).

Planter Speed

  • Make sure row units run smoothly with no bounce or vibration.
  • Run at 4.5 to 5 mph.

Row Cleaners

  • Set at correct depth.

Down Pressure

  • Adjust to proper setting.

Closing Wheels

  • Do they close the trench and create uniform seed firming?

Planting Depth

  • Set to a minimum of 1¾" (up to 2 1/4"), but plant into uniform moisture and microenvironment. 

Functional Areas and Parts to Check in the Shop

Click here for a printable version of the checklist for your shop

Seed Transmission System

  • Clutch assembly
  • Bearings/sprockets/idlers
  • Chains
  • Drive shaft alignment

Seed Meters

  • Put meters on a calibration stand for air/vacuum planters
  • Blow air lines clean
  • Clean meters

Wheels and Tires

  • Lug nuts and bearings
  • Air pressure in tires

Fertilizer Transmission

  • Openers and bearings/blades/shoes
  • Fertilizer hoses
  • Pump
  • Calibrate flow

Down Pressure Assembly

Parallel Arm Linkage

  • Measurements between arms
  • Bolts and bushings (rocking test)
  • Shape of hole on parallel arms (circle or egg shape)

Row Unit Sprockets

  • Alignment of meter disconnect lever
  • Moving freely

Drive Chains

  • Lubricated and in good condition
  • Drive rollers/idlers/idler springs
  • Grooves in rollers

Row Cleaners (Floating Style)

  • Bearings
  • Free movement up and down

No-Till Coulters

  • Bearings
  • Cutting edge
  • Centered on hub
  • Depth (must be  1/4" higher than opening disks)

Gauge Wheel Assembly

  • Condition of gauge wheel arm
  • Walking gauge wheel attachments
  • Rubber tires: Are they in good condition? Do they run true and have contact with disk blades?
  • Bearings

Tru-Vee Openers/Disk Blades

  • Blade point of contact: Check owner’s manual but most should be 2" to 2.5", except for Kinze 3000 series, which should be 1" to 1.25", and Case IH, which should just barely make contact with each other (no more than a business card width).
  • Diameter of blades: Minimum of 14.5", except for Case IH which is a minimum of 13.5"
  • Bearings
  • Scrapers

Keeton Seed Firmers

  • Installation
  • Tension
  • Wear

Closing Wheel Assembly

  • Tires and wheel bearings
  • Centered over seed trench (scratch line test in shop)
  • Staggered wheel setup
  • Pivot assembly holes

Insecticide Assembly

  • Condition of box and feed roll
  • Cleanliness of hose attachment
  • Insecticide bander 


  • Structural welds
  • Hydraulic hoses and cylinders
  • Wing hinges and pivots
  • Row markers


  • Routing
  • Cable connections
  • Review control console functions
  • Seed tube sensors

VRT Controllers

  • Version updates
  • Set up test run
  • Seed drop calibration
  • Speed sensor calibration
  • Implement switch
  • Tractor hydraulic calibration



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