There’s a lot of winter left in parts of the country, but many farmers have planting on their mind. That’s true for Leon Knirk, who farms near Quincy, Mich. This time of year, Knirk spends up to three days and $150 per row prepping his planter.
"Improved stand counts and ear counts in my fields have repeatedly proven that this process is worth the effort," Knirk says.
"Every 1,000 ears per acre is worth 5 bu. to 7 bu.," says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. "It’s pretty common to pick up several thousand ears per acre as a result of good planter setup, and that can result in significant additional revenue."
An additional 10 bushels per acre would easily pay for your time and simple repairs. At $3 a bushel over 500 acres, for example, you would gain $15,000.
The key, Bauer says, is checking each facet of the planter and making adjustments before and during the season.
"I tell farmers to inspect everything involved with the seed transmission: chains, sprockets, bearings, idlers and clutch assembly, including all seed metering components as well as the meter itself," she says.
Other factors farmers need to evaluate include: parallel arms, row cleaners, no-till coulters, gauge wheels, disk openers, seed tubes, closing wheels and seed placement.
"We’ve followed this same process for years, and we hardly ever have downtime anymore during planting season," Knirk notes. "It gives us a great deal of confidence when it’s time to head to the field."
In late winter, Knirk pulls the planter into his machine shed, where he checks each part and replaces any worn items.
"We routinely replace all of the disk opener blades each year," Knirk says. "We also look for any bent machinery pieces, parallel arms that don’t seem to be quite square and gears that have shifted. We also lubricate everything."
One of the best investments Knirk says he has made is in a mechanized spinner that allows him to check the performance of planting row units with little effort.
A small motor similar to those used to calibrate dry insecticides can be hooked up to the main driveshaft and used to spin the planter, Bauer says.
"First, spin the planter with the boxes on to help you determine if there are issues with the seed shaft alignment to the meter," she explains. "Then, with the planter boxes off, run the planter and look for frozen links or problems with idlers or rollers."
To check bearings, Bauer suggests farmers take a long screwdriver, place the tip on the bearing housing and hold the other end to their ear. Bearings that are beginning to fail will have a gravelly sound.
"When you’re out of the tractor, and at those low revolutions per minute, you can hear anything that’s too tight or if the bearings are bad," Knirk adds. A mechanized spinner costs less than $500.
Once the indoor planter checkup is finished, Knirk moves the unit to a sod area behind his shed to check the alignment of the starter fertilizer openers and make sure that closing wheels are centered.
"We measure the distance between slices to see if the cuts are uniform and that the closing wheels are hitting squarely," he explains.
Knirk then moves to the field and starts planting. He makes a partial pass and then stops to evaluate down force, planting depth and planter levelness. "We’ll dig out the corn in a couple of rows to see if it’s being dropped consistently at the right depth," he says.
Bauer says that you need to check the micro-environment around the seed. “Dig a cross-section of the seed trench to make sure the seed is being placed at the proper depth with good moisture and good seed-to-soil contact,” she says. "You won’t get even emergence otherwise."