Leon Knirk often jokes that he grows corn in rocks instead of soil on his south-central Michigan farm near Quincy. All jokes aside, Knirk says the rocky, light soils take a toll on his 16-row corn planter and are one reason he painstakingly checks the unit before heading to the field.
Improved stand and ear counts and minimal downtime have repeatedly proven that his three-day planter prep process, which typically costs $150 per row, is well worth it.
Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer says farmers who prep their planter properly, maintain its performance 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 rate.
"The key is checking each facet of the planter from hitch pin to closing wheels and making adjustments before and during the planting season," says Bauer, who serves as Knirk’s Ultimate Farm Quest agronomic specialist.
Ultimate Farm Quest is a program designed to help farmers such as Knirk reach a higher level of success with their operation.
Before heading to the field, Knirk replaces worn parts and disk opener blades and lubricates everything. He also reviews comments he wrote in a pocket-sized notebook during the previous planting season to remind him of problems that need follow-up attention.
Small investment, big return. One of the best investments that Knirk says he has made recently is a mechanized spinner that allows him to check planting row units with little effort and, at less than $500, little cost.
Bauer says a small motor, such as those used to calibrate dry insecticides, can be hooked up to the main driveshaft and used to spin the planter.
"To help determine if there are issues with the seed shaft alignment to the meter, first spin the planter with the boxes on," she says. "Then, with the planter boxes off, run the planter and look for frozen links or problems with idlers or rollers."
To check bearings, Bauer offers this tip: Take a long screwdriver, place the tip on the bearing housing and hold the other end to your ear. "Bearings that are beginning to fail will have a gravelly sound," she says.
Knirk adds: "When you’re out of the tractor, and at those low rpms, you can hear anything that’s too tight or if the bearings are bad."
To the field. Once the inside planter checkup is completed, Knirk moves the unit to a sod area behind his shop to check the alignment of starter fertilizer openers and make sure the closing wheels are hitting squarely.
Next, he moves to the field and starts planting. He makes a partial pass through the field and then stops to evaluate the amount of down force and the 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 good seed-to-soil contact is achieved.
Knirk also incorporates the help of a 20/20 Precision Planting SeedSense system. The system enables him to fine-tune adjustments in the field and establish field boundaries. This second benefit helps him better estimate the fertilizer and seed amounts needed in each field. By doing the calculations in-field, he can stop to refill when it’s most convenient.