Get your planter ready for season

Planting season is just around the corner. Do you have your planter set and ready to go? We’ve all bought equipment that was supposedly “field ready,” and $2,500 later it is finally set to go. So how “ready” is your planter? Here are a few guidelines you should follow — before planting — to evaluate your situation.

First, make sure all the chains and bearings are in good working order. Even one frozen link can cause skips out in the field. Next, move onto your row units and measure the disks. They should be at least 14.5 feet across. If not, replace them.

When they are smaller than this, you will not get a good “V” shape in the bottom of the seed trench, which can lead to shallower planting depths for some seeds. Your disks should have at least 2 to 2.5 inches of contact, which will also help with leaving that true “V” shape.

Check the spacing of the gauge wheels and make sure they at least rub up against the disk. You do not want them too loose. Check for wear on the arms and reverse them if necessary. Before you put the disks and gauge wheels on, check for wear on your seed tubes and tube guard. Replace both if wear is too severe.

Working back, check your closing wheels. They should be centered on the row. Their purpose is to firm the soil around the seed, not to add to any sidewall compaction issues. For tighter soils, most growers have gone to using one spiked-tooth closing wheel on one side. Put a spiked-tooth wheel on the leading edge side of the closing wheel assembly. Be sure to switch back to two wheels, though, if you get into drier or coarser soils.

On-the-job check

Once you get to the field, run the planter, and then stop and check your settings. The toolbar should be running level. If it’s not, the typical culprit is a hitch that is not high enough on the planter’s three-point. Make sure your parallel arms are level with the ground, as well. Any unevenness can lead to your row cleaners working too aggressively ahead of the seed trench and leaving your closing wheels to loose in the back, not sealing the seed trench enough.

Check your down pressure by trying to spin the gauge wheels. They should turn with a little bit of effort. If they don’t, back off your setting. If they spin too freely, you need to increase it a bit. Excess down pressure can lead to sidewall compaction and poor seed-to-soil contact, hurting your yields even before emergence.

Have someone watch you plant. They can check the level of the planter, the bounce of the seed boxes, the row cleaner setting and any other issues. Dig the seeds and measure for correct planting depth (1½ to 2 inches), and check for sidewall compaction. Keep your speeds under 5 mph to keep the planter running smoothly.

These steps do not take much time and can lead to the picture-perfect stands you were hoping for.

Spelhaug is an agronomist with Peterson Farms Seed, Harwood, N.D. For more information, contact him at 866-481-7333 or

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.