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Uncover the Root of Planting Snafus

08:10AM Mar 07, 2015

Don’t let your planter take the blame for these problems 

Planters often get the blame for planting difficulties that really aren’t their fault. Here are five non- planter problems that affect planting progress and ultimately yields.

1. Seedbed preparation. A perfectly maintained and adjusted planter can’t make up for poor seedbed preparation. Cloddy seedbeds jar seed meters, dislodge seeds from vacuum plates or finger units and create skips. A deeply ridged or uneven seedbed from a misadjusted or worn field cultivator makes it difficult for a planter’s gauge wheels to maintain consistent depth of seed placement. 

Smooth seedbeds and good soil conditions allow planters to meter and place seeds for optimum emergence and early seedling vigor.

“You have to acknowledge soil conditions,” says Tom Evans, Great Plains Manufacturing. “Planters will put seed into near-mud or dirt that’s dried into nothing but clods, but it’s not the planter’s fault if nothing grows under those conditions.”

2. Operating speed. Manufacturers have traditionally engineered planters to optimize seed metering and seed placement at 5½ mph. New technologies offer planting speeds of up to 10 mph, but owner’s manuals for those machines emphasize soil surface conditions should determine optimum planting speed. 

3. Seed treatments. The fans in air-based seed metering systems move tremendous volumes of air. Even low levels of humidity in the air are magnified by high air flow and cause problems related to pesticide coatings commonly applied to seeds.

Those insecticide and fungicide coatings are hygroscopic, meaning they readily absorb moisture from the air moving through air planters. When they absorb moisture, their surfaces become sticky, leading to problems with seeds clumping and bridging in seed hoppers, and potentially clogging seed meters.

Problems related to seed treatments often express themselves as plugged hoses that transfer seed from central-fill tanks to individual seed meters, but they can contribute to in-row doubles and triples due to seeds clumping on seed plates. Static electricity generated by passage of seeds through plastic components on planters can also contribute to clingy seeds that increase doubles and triples in the row.

Talc absorbs moisture and helps lubricate seeds to improve movement through air systems. Graphite lubricates seeds passing through finger unit seed meters.

Blends of talc and graphite are gaining popularity. Talc is a natural electrical insulator, graphite is a conductor and their combination helps neutralize any static electric charges that develop.

“Even in planting systems with no wear parts (such as finger units), a 80/20 mix of talc and graphite is useful as dry lubricant and to reduce static electricity,” says Kelby Krueger, with John Deere’s planter division.

4. Hydraulic mismatches. Modern planters are hydraulic hogs. A large modern planter might require five or more hydraulic outlets on a tractor and demand more than 100 gal. per minute of hydraulic flow. 

The snarl of hydraulic hoses and electrical harnesses stresses the demands modern planters place on tractors.

Problems with inconsistent or erratic vacuum levels at seed meters can often be traced to problems with hydraulic flow. For example, running two vacuum system motors from one hydraulic outlet on a tractor requires a balancing/regulating valve so the flow to each motor can be individually adjusted. Simply plumbing both motors in-line means the “downstream” motor is powered by—and at the mercy of—exhaust oil from the first motor. 

5. Electrical capacity of tractors. Modern planters with multiple electric shut-off clutches, electrically powered air compressors, and accessory lighting or pesticide metering systems can overload the electrical systems of the tractors that pull them. Blatant electrical overloads result in blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers. Near-overloads can cause mysterious glitches, blackouts, dimouts, odd hieroglyphic symbols and other problems with seed monitors and GPS guidance systems. 

When adding electrical accessories to planters, it’s important to determine in advance if the tractor pulling the planter has adequate electrical capacity to power the additional systems. 

In a broad sense, “planting” is an integrated operation—beginning with fall tillage and ending when the closing wheels firm the soil over the last seeds in the final row. Planters are simply one component in the multistage, multi-equipment process.