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Planter tune-up is a ‘must-do-now’

In this third Q&A series article, Russell McLucas, Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance board member, and Del Voight, Penn State Extension grain crop specialist, address planter and drill maintenance issues. McLucas, past chair of the Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association and a 30-year veteran no-tiller, farms near McConnellsburg, Pa. Questions may be directed to Voight at dgvl@psu.edu and McLucas at russ-mclucas@embarqmail.com.

Q: What are the highest-wear items on a no-till planter?

McLucas: Row openers get the heaviest wear. If you have a chain-drive type planter, replace the chains every year. Replace all bearings in closing wheels. If you’re using row cleaners, give them the same attention as the row openers.

On no-till planters and even drills, watch the openers and the seed boots. Worn seed boots can be a real issue, especially with alfalfa seed.

Just because the old drill worked for years in tilled ground doesn’t mean a no-till unit will. They require periodic seed disk and seed boot replacement — every five years or so.

Key Points

• Row openers suffer heaviest wear, and they may be the most error-prone.

• Field studies found that average stands lose up to 10 bushels an acre.

• Front-running coulters should be replaced if they exceed a half-inch of wear.


Q: How do you head off wear-related planting errors?

McLucas: The best planting equipment service is planned, preventive and overly fussy.  No-till planters and drills have to do everything. We ask a lot from them, so they need extra attention and care.

• On White planters, check seed disks for warpage. Replace tickler brushes and wiper pads.

• Deere and Kinze row units have specific wear times. Have each row unit checked on a precision test stand and adjusted for your seed corn sizes. This’ll pay off in very few hours of planting time.

• Check clearances between depth-gauge wheels and seed opener disks. It’s critical. Keep them tight.

• Set closing assemblies so that each side of seed trench has the same sidewall “push.”

• Make sure fertilizer openers (or drops) are properly adjusted for your application rates and materials.

Voight: Population establishment is crucial to maintaining peak-yield farms, regardless of tillage system. Last year, Penn State’s Crop Management Extension group surveyed 78 fields for stand deviations. In general, those stands averaged 4 inches off their targeted stand. Each deviation from 2 inches equals 2 to 5 bushels per acre corn yield loss.

• Front-running coulters are supposed to cut through residues and soil about a half-inch deeper than double disk openers. No matter whether you use fluted or straight coulters, check them every year for wear, and replace if they have more than a half-inch of wear.

• Wear on double-disk openers affects planting depth and seed placement. Check them every year. Replace them if they fail to pinch the width of two business cards.

• Check your seed covering devices for proper alignment. Lift the planter. Place a 6-foot straight 1-inch-by-1-inch board between the disk openers, and align with the closing wheels. Be sure they align and aren’t bent out of track.

• Planter units that are bent to one side are difficult to rebend back into position. This normally happens on outside rows, where a planter occasionally isn’t fully out of the ground on the turns.

• Finally, study your owner’s manual. Repair or replace any damaged, loose or sprung parts. Lubricate all moving parts according to the owner’s manual. Make sure all shafts and moving parts move freely, particularly the seed-metering devices in all seed hoppers, fertilizer augers, finger wheels and insecticide- or herbicide-metering systems.

Baker is a consultant for Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance.

Planter tractor tips

While most scrutiny is giving to the planter and drill, Russ McLucas urges paying attention to the planter tractor’s tire pressure and drawbar height. Set tire pressure to the owner’s manual specification.

“Over- or underinflation will cause seed drop rates to not be as specified on the charts,” he explains.

Drawbar height on your planter tractor can be a real headache, adds McLucas. “A few years back, we were having fits with planter units not opening correctly.

“We had put new drive tires on the tractor that raised the drawbar. Changing the air pressure in the drive tires made more than a one-inch change in drawbar height.”

A few risks with early seed orders

Seed and crop protection salesmen always push early seed ordering. But as Del Voight notes, it can be difficult to change your order if you discover that a particular hybrid didn’t perform as well as you’d hoped in 2009.

Choosing a hybrid with three-year performance data is difficult. So many traits available change yearly, as does the genetic manipulation of hybrids, he adds.

The push to select based on single-year performance comparisons intensifies. In some seed companies, the (isoline) hybrid containing the parent traits without any other proven performance traits are available.

Keep in mind that available seed sizes may become an issue. Many planters operate better with a specific-sized seed. Hybrids might be available with late-spring orders, but not in the same seed size.


This article published in the January, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.