Attention to detail keeps planters running precisely

Wear points can have an effect on many parts of planter operation

Planter functions from openers to metering to firming and closing are all focused on creating a perfect seed trench.

Careful planter maintenance can eliminate problems at the moment of seed placement that have to be corrected later at expense and with a loss of profits.

“I’m not going to go out and replant one row because I identified on my planter that I had a row failing for the first 30 acres, the first fill of my planter,” says Shawn Livingston, Eastern Canada regional manager with Precision Planting.

Why it matters: As more technology is added to planters, more maintenance is needed to maintain the advance of the precision systems.

Livingston talked about where planters can cost farmers in profit and ways to limit common planter profit robbers at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show’s Plant day, the first of a series of day sessions throughout the growing season.

There are five main areas where planters provide the best start to a crop including:

  • Emergence
  • Nutrition
  • Singulation (the planting of one seed at a time, every time it’s needed)
  • Spacing
  • Population

Those factors come together to produce a full ear of corn. 

Spacing errors are caused by row unit ride, driveline chatter, seed release and seed delivery.

Singulation errors are all about the meter.

Emergence issues are more about management of planting time and also the planter including moisture, temperature, ground conditions and residue.

There are four areas of focus when looking at planters, says Livingston.

Furrow creation

Make sure that the bar is level. If it’s tipped the coulter can be deeper in the ground than necessary, creating a false bottom and then the firmer can’t do its job of firming soil over seed and closing systems don’t work as well. Make sure to level units in the field and check the planter when in motion, with a magnetic level on the bar.

Be careful adding ballast. Balance the planter so all the row units are equally in the ground. If weight is taken off the bar and the planter is moved from a tilled to a no-till field, is there enough down pressure to get the planter through the residue?

Parallel arms attach the mainframe to the row unit. Farmers often look at the bushing first, says Livingston, but it could also be wear on the arm.

Disc openers should be straight and true. Put them in a vice and spin them. When changing the discs, think about changing the seed tube guards. Flexing discs rub up against the seed tube guard when in the ground. Make sure to check the bearings and the bolts that hold the discs. Worn discs can lead to double trenches, which makes it harder for the seed to hit the bottom of the trench and potentially introduce an air pocket. Replace discs when they are worn to 14.5 inches, from 15 inches when new, says Livingston.

Gauge wheels should be shimmed up against discs. If fingers can be put between discs and wheels, dirt can be built up behind the gauge wheel, which can force dry dirt into the trench.

Planters can have significant difference in wear across row units and that can affect depth of individual row units, says Livingston.

Depth can be tested outside of the field by setting gauge wheels on a piece of 2X4 and half inch plywood to equal two inches – a regular depth for corn planting. If the gauge wheels still turn with the openers on the ground, then it’s not a true two inches.

In the short term, the T-handles can be changed by row so that each hits the required depth.

Seed placement

Livingston recommends taking a meter every year or two to be checked and fine tuned by an expert.

In Ontario trials this year Livingston says a decrease of 11.8 bushels per acre was observed when singulation dropped from 99.7 per cent to 93.5 per cent.

Longer term trials show a 2.2 bushel loss with one per cent loss of singulation.

Another factor affecting seed placement is ride quality. Check chains, sprockets and bearings for wear. Check fertilizer systems for chain quality. A bad chain can create vibration every time the chain comes around. 

“Your best chain lubricant is a set of bolt cutters,” says Livingston. He encouraged replacement of chains that aren’t functioning well.

Seed tubes have to function well and there can’t be any ricochets within. A .04 second difference in time between two seed tubes meant a four-inch difference in seed placement on the ground.

Seed firmers need to have the right tension and Livingston says that it should take 24 ounces to lift a Keeton Seed Firmer. Check it with a hand-held scale, he says.

Furrow destruction

The closing system should be aligned perfectly behind the openers. The closing wheels should meet underground and they should meet at the seed. They have to be set for the depth of the crop. In sugar beets, the wheels should be set narrow as seed is planted shallow. To plant corn the closing wheels should be an inch and a half to inch and three quarters apart. Check for wear.

A closing system typically has a T handle with a spring. Take a bathroom scale and set the closing system on the scale. Livingston says as much as a 25 lb. difference in the closing pressure has been observed. Check the springs. 

“There are some major mechanical wear points on the back of a mechanical closing system,” he says.

A closing system is working when a row is dug up behind the planter and the furrow can’t be found, says Livingston.

Furrow monitoring

Planting is expensive, says Livingston. A 16-row planter at 30 inches can cost 86 cents per second to place the seed in the ground. Just for the seed alone, that makes the value of the work the planter is doing $3,096 per hour.

Monitors allow an instant understanding of the metrics of the planter from population to closing system weight.

If adding technology, sound maintenance on the planter is critical, says Livinston, but “In the end it’s the person sitting on the unit that has the control.”

About the author


John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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