T here’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 of Quincy, Mich. This time of year, he spends up to three days and $150 per row prepping his planter. “Improved stand and ear counts have proven this process is worth the effort,” he says.
“Every 1,000 ears per acre is worth 5 bu. to 7 bu.,” adds Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. “It’s common to pick up several thousand ears per acre as a result of good planter setup.”
Even 10 bu. per acre would easily pay for your time and small repairs. At $3 a bushel over 500 acres, you would pick up an additional $15,000.
The key, Bauer says, is checking each facet of the planter and making adjustments before and during planting. That means everything to do with the seed transmission: chains, sprockets, bearings, idlers and clutch assembly, metering components and the meter itself.
Other factors you need to evaluate include parallel arms, row cleaners, no-till coulters, gauge wheels, disk openers, seed tubes, closing wheels and seed placement. Turn to page 12 to read more about optimizing closing wheel performance.
Knirk starts out in his machine shed, checking each planter part and replacing worn items. “We replace all disk opener blades each year,” he says. “We look for any bent pieces, parallel arms that don’t seem to be square and gears that have shifted, and we lubricate everything.”
He then hooks up a mechanized spinner (similar to those used to calibrate dry insecticides) to the main driveshaft to check row units.
“First, spin the planter with the boxes on to help determine if there are issues with the seed shaft alignment to the meter,” Bauer says. “Then, with the planter boxes off, run the planter and look for frozen links or problems with idlers or rollers.”
To check bearings, place the tip of a long screwdriver on the bearing housing and hold the other end to your ear. Bearings that are failing have a gravelly sound, Bauer says.
Knirk moves the planter outside to a sod area to check starter fertilizer openers and closing wheels. “We measure the distance between slices to see if the cuts are uniform and closing wheels are hitting squarely.”
Once Knirk starts planting, he makes a partial pass then stops to evaluate down force, planting depth and planter levelness.
We’ll dig out some corn in a few rows to see if it’s being dropped consistently at the right depth,” he says. “We’ve followed this same process for years, and we hardly ever have downtime anymore during planting season. It gives us a great deal of confidence when it’s time to head to the field.”
“Check the microenvironment around the seed,” Bauer adds, “to make sure it has adequate moisture and good seed-to-soil contact.”