How accurate is your planter?

No one wants unpleasant surprises when corn emerges. That’s why Joey Hanson, agronomist at Valley Ag Supply, Gayville, S.D., recommends doing a calibration check on planters.

“A calibration check will identify doubles, skips and other types of planting errors on any planting unit,” Hanson says. “If you have an older unit, you have the option of upgrading to a newer precision unit. We’ve run some tests that show you increase profits by $15 to $20 an acre with the newer precision planting units, so the equipment pays for itself pretty quickly.”

Duane and Allen Holoch, Vermillion, S.D., have used a John Deere 7000 planter since the early 80s when they bought it as a new unit. Every year they’ve completed routine maintenance and recently began taking advantage of Valley Ag Supply’s MeterMax system.

Key Points

South Dakota farmers are sold on the benefits of planter calibration.

A calibration check of your planter will identify metering problems.

Planters should perform at 98% or more accuracy for highest yields.


“That analysis brings the planter’s performance up a notch, refines it,” Duane says. “Our planting units can be consistently accurate. You have to keep everything else in good order too, like the disc that makes the seed slot.

That has to be replaced every so often. You want to watch it while you plant to make sure it’s digging into the soil like it should. We go through the planter every year with a fine-tooth comb because we know it makes a lot of difference in the bottom line.”

Reduced profits

Hanson notes that double-planting and other planting errors reduce profits in several ways.

“Neither double-planted corn plant performs well,” Hanson says, “which means a percentage of the seed and nutrient cost is lost. Labor and planting costs are also increased in relation to yield, no matter what the planting error is.”

Ray Epp, Mission Hill, S.D., upgraded his 2005 John Deere planter’s precision units for the 2010 season because he knew his investment would quickly be regained in increased yield.

“I was after better seed placement,” he says. “Analysis on Valley Ag Supply’s meter showed my planter was at about 90% efficiency. With the new components, it’s running at 99.5% to 99.9% efficiency. With the new components, I can plant the same seed quantity at the same speed and gain nearly a 10% increase. That’s a huge savings.”

Before Tom Dreesen and his son, of Meckling, S.D., brought home their brand-new 1770 NT John Deere planter, they used Valley Ag Supply’s meter to test the accuracy of their 6-year-old planter.

“We’re using field maps, variable-rate planting and autosteer, some of the latest technology, and we’re still learning about all of it,” Tom says. “Our John Deere dealer set the new planter up for us this year. Next year, we’ll be using the MeterMax system to verify our planting efficiency. We know we can be more accurate and consistent, and expect to see improved yields by combining the different technologies.”

MeterMax data indicates that planters should perform at 98% or more accuracy, but the average planter operates between 92% and 97% accuracy. Bringing the average to 98% boosts yields by an average of 5.7 bushels per acre. Spacing, seed variety and planting speed all affect planting accuracy.

“Some elements affecting your stand can’t be controlled,” Hanson says. “Mother Nature reduces germination so you start the season with some loss. Keeping that at a minimum gives you the best possible return on investment every year. Rain, weed competition and other factors affect yield. There’s a lot of dollars involved in today’s cornfields. Controlling what you can makes a difference.”

Sorensen is from Yankton, S.D.

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MAX EFFICIENCY: Tom Dreesen plants with confidence. He has calibration checks performed on his planter to make sure it is metering corn seed as accurately as possible.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.