Use planter checklist before heading to the field

Smooth planter operation requires attention to hydraulics, meters and other parts

Spring planting will be underway shortly, and thorough checks of planting equipment are vital to crop success.

Josh Boersen.
photo: John Greig

Josh Boersen and his father Brad farm cash crops and broiler chickens north of Stratford, and have been doing checks of their planters for many years. Off the top, they emphasize safety first. Every year when they set up the planter in the shop, they make sure to use safety stops or jack stands, whether they’ve working under the machine or not.

To start, the Boersens give the machine a general scan to determine its overall condition, looking at the hydraulic hoses (any change in appearance, such as cracks at pinch points) and more.

“With the row units, we start with linkages and bushings, making sure everything is nice and tight, that it will travel well and trail properly,” says Josh Boersen. “Look at the tillage portion of it, at the bearings in the row cleaners and the coulters. Check that everything is moving, seals are in good condition, lubricate.”

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Why it matters: Planting corn and soybeans are precise activities. Avoidable problems usually start with planter maintenance.

Mark Robson, a product support specialist at Delta Power Equipment (a dealer for Case IH and New Holland, with many locations in southern Ontario), advises checking that the openers of the row unit are not worn or not shimmed properly. “If the spacing is not adequate, that will affect seed placement and performance in the field,” he says. “Also, if the coulter and openers are past their beveled edge, they should be replaced.”

With the actual row unit, the Boersens check the gauge wheel bearings and disc opener bearings. “We generally take gauge wheels right off to get a look at the row disk,” Boersen says. “We make sure if bearings are good, that there is not too much wear on the disc, check the diameter and check openings to make sure that they meet spec.”

They also check firming point wear with the gauge that’s supplied, and check the seed tube as well.

Every two or three years, the Boersens get their planting meters tested at their dealer. “It’s quite a bit of work for us to take them off, but some do it every year,” Boersen says. “It depends on the farmer and it depends on how many acres you plant. Every year, we check all the meter components to see if any appear damaged, make sure they are clean and put on the components we need for the first crop we’re going to plant.”

Most dealers have a stand for testing meters, says Glen Ashton of Kearney Planters. The meter test ensures accurate singulation of the seed. The other measure is the coefficient of variation, which determines the consistency of seed spacing.

Once you have the metering correct, Ashton says the next important area is making sure the seed is placed properly in the ground, including consistent depth, which is helped by making sure the seed blades are adjusted and in proper condition as are the gauge wheels that run alongside.

There are many closing wheel options, but make sure they aren’t overly worn and have the proper down pressure.

Ashton also advises making sure the planter is level.

The Boersens also check their starter fertilizer system, lines and screens, looking for any blockage of orifices and that the pumps are working well. They check all the fans, vacuum and hydraulic motors.

“We actually have a new planter and we’re modifying the fertilizer system a bit,” says Boersen. “The vacuum hoses to the meters from the manifold didn’t appear to be attached properly so we checked that and everything else.”

“If you have a rate controller,” adds Robson, “make sure to calibrate it every year. Run some liquid through it to make sure it’s reading correctly. Also, check the openers for granular fertilizer. The fertilizer can build up and cause rust.”

Lastly, both Boersen and Robson remind farmers to make sure tire pressures are set properly and to grease everything. “Check that the wheel bearings are tight,” says Robson. “Everything in the frame you want to be tight. An issue is going to happen on the road and that’s exactly where you don’t want to break down.”

Computer updates?

The Boersens also check that all the computers are working and that all the operating software is up-to-date.

However, Robson is of the view that farmers should not update software just because an update is available – and they generally are. “If you update automatically all the time, you’re always taking a risk that something is going to change that you don’t want changed,” he explains. “The risk outweighs the benefit if you have a negative issue afterward. Only do an update if you’re having a current issue or looking for a new feature that’s only available with the update.”

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