When you head to the field, be sure your planter is working for you and not against you. In some cases, you may need to readjust your row cleaners or remove your coulters to ensure even emergence and strong stands.
If you face the prospect of planting corn in a less-than-ideal seedbed this spring, placing more emphasis on the performance of your planter row cleaners and coulters can improve the planting process, advises Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist.
"In a lot of cases we'll need to move more of the residue that's on the fields this year because it's not decomposed enough,” Ferrie explains.
He cites the lack of fall tillage in 2009 due to the late harvest as a primary reason for the heavier-than-usual residue levels in many farmers' fields.
Row cleaners play an important role in the planting process by clearing a path through residue, especially corn stalks, roots and cobs, for the planter disc openers and gauge wheels.
Row cleaners work best when adjusted so that they skim the surface of the soil. Those that are set too high are unable to remove residue adequately. When set too low, they can cut into the soil too deeply and, as a result, negatively impact seed planting depth and contribute to uneven crop emergence.
"We have to get that row cleaner set so we're aggressive enough to get a good clean swath to work with but not so aggressive that we're plowing furrows out there,” Ferrie says.
Heavy corn residue levels can also impact how well coulters perform.
"If we have to do much tillage to prepare the field before the planter pass, the coulters may have to come off,” Ferrie says. "All they'll do is shove this stiff residue down into the soil, and we'll have problems then with residue in the furrow itself.”
Residue in the furrow often results in poor seed-to-soil contact and a delay in germination.
Farmers can minimize this problem by selecting the right coulter blades for the job and making sure that they are sharp enough to cut through heavy residue, says Mark Hanna, Iowa State University extension agricultural engineer.
"Dull coulters tend to ride on top of or push residue along instead of cutting it,” he explains.
Matthew Digman, assistant professor and machinery systems specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers this timely advice in the March 2010 issue of the Wisconsin Crop Manager for optimum coulter and row cleaner performance.
"All-wheel and non-sealed coulter and row cleaner bearings should be disassembled, cleaned and re-packed with grease,” Digman says. "Be sure to check your operator's manual for specific instructions for your machine regarding bearing seals and for setting the bearing and adjusting play.”
For More Information
Seedbed Preparation and Corn Planter Settings