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Planters Have Changed

Published on: 14:48PM Feb 10, 2018

Planters used to be the one machine that farmers could fix themselves. Professional mechanics always knew tricks to optimize planter performance, but for the most part, if you could bolt and unbolt parts, a farmer could do nearly any maintenance or repair necessary on a 6-, 8- or 12-row planter.

Sorry, folks, but planters are joining tractors, combines, self-propelled sprayers and other farm equipment that now have aspects that are virtually impossible for farmers to self-repair. Sure, the owner can repair or replace bolt-on components like disk openers, scrapers, and that sort of thing, but the latest version of planters that use CAN-bus systems to connect computers in the tractor cab to computers on the planter--it's going to take a dealership mechanic to decipher problems in those particular systems.

I don't mean to sound arrogant when I say that--I'm just stating the facts. In fact, a lot of us dealership mechanics are intimidated by the complexity of the latest generation of farm equipment.  New planters equipped with all the bells and whistles (like auto-adjusting row unit down-pressure, and auto-adjusting row cleaners) are a jungle of wires, sensors, and switches. The only simple, efficient way to monitor and control all those  systems is with computers. And computers make things simply complicated.

Now. When everything works correctly those planters are absolute wonders. You'll think you're king of the world when all the systems are automatically sensing, adjusting and behaving like they're supposed to behave. But if a height or down-pressure sensor fails, or a control valve malfunctions, it's not going to be plainly visible like when a gauge wheel bearing failed on Grandpa's planter. It's going to take some serious head-scratching and a lot of diagnosing to identify why things aren't working, where the problem is, and THEN bolt/unbolt/replace/re-wire the malfunctioning component. 

 I'm all in favor of technology, and encourage customers to embrace all the possibilities. I don't like to sound like a grouchy old mechanic stuck in the past. But it's critical that those who adapt the latest technologies understand that it could take hours--and hours--to figure out how to make a misbehaving computerized planter perform properly. Or--it could take only a few minutes to replace a faulty switch or adjust a sensor. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That's my motto going into this spring.

 

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