Planter Prep

December 16, 2011 10:31 PM

Corn yields improve an average 4.2 bu. per acre as a result

While there’s a lot of winter left, many farmers have planting on their mind. They’re not wasting any time getting started with their corn planter preparations.

That’s true for Leon Knirk, who farms near Quincy, Mich. It pays for itself, he says, to spend up to three days and $150 per row prepping his planter. Plus it minimizes potential downtime in the field during planting season.

"Improved stand counts and ear counts in my fields have repeatedly proven that this process is worth the effort," Knirk says.

Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer says farmers who properly prepare their planter, maintain its performance during the season and drive no faster than 5 mph when planting corn can achieve a final ear count that is within 1,000 to 1,200 of their targeted population.

A split-planter study by Pioneer Hi-Bred shows an average yield improvement of 4.2 bu. per acre when a planter is suitably prepped.

From hitch pin to closing wheels. 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," Bauer 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.

This winter, Bauer is hosting five hands-on Corn College Planter Clinics throughout the Midwest and mid-South. For a list of dates and locations in addition to registration information, see the box at right. All major planter makes and models will be covered.

Start in the shed. 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 lubricate everything."

One of the best investments Knirk says he has recently made is purchasing 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. He says an investment in mechanized spinners is less than $500.

Knirk also reviews the comments that he wrote in a pocket-sized notebook during the previous planting season to identify any problem areas he recorded that might need some additional follow-up attention.

"We’ve followed this same process for seven years, and we hardly ever have downtime anymore during planting season," he says. "It gives us a great deal of confidence when it’s time to head to the field."

To the field. 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 and planting depth. "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.

In addition, Bauer recommends that farmers 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. "You won’t get even emergence otherwise," she says.

As a rule of thumb, proper planting depth ranges from 1¾" to 2". Early in the season, if it’s cold, farmers might want to plant a bit shallower, to 1½", but they should never go more shallow than that. If there isn’t good moisture at 2", going to 2¼" might be OK.

Bauer encourages farmers to check planting depth in each field and to respect changes in soil types.

Sign up today for a 2012 Corn College Planter Clinic!

Join Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer and fellow experts at one of the five Corn College Planter Clinics this winter.


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