Pay attention to seed meters

Farmers can increase yields considerably by properly preparing the ground, adjusting their planters and closely inspecting how well the planter is doing putting seed into the ground. That’s the message Kevin Kimberley gives farmers attending his planter clinics.

Kimberley, who has 30 years of experience in farming and calibrating planters, is a consultant at Maxwell in central Iowa. He’s also done consulting work for seed and equipment companies. There are six planter stands in the shop on the Kimberley farm. That’s where he and his crew clean, inspect, repair and recalibrate seed meters farmers send them. They offer this service for both corn and soybean planters and meters.

“No matter what type of seed meter you have on your planter, it’s critical to avoid doubles and skips,” says Kimberley. “To get the most return from the seed you buy, you want evenly spaced kernels and a uniform emergence of plants. With the high-yield genetics and the higher populations being planted today, you can easily lose 10 to 20 bushels of corn per acre due to skips, doubles, triples and a non-uniform stand.”

Placing seed at correct depth is also a key factor in getting uniform emergence. So is slowing down and planting at the right speed for the field conditions. But the seed meter is the place to start when fine-tuning a planter. “Think about what it’ll cost you in lost yield potential if you don’t repair and properly adjust the meters on your planter before heading to the field,” he adds.

Key Points

With rising input costs and high-yielding genetics, you need a uniform stand.

Cost of skips and uneven emergence is big in terms of lost corn yield potential.

It pays to have planter seed meters checked, repaired and properly calibrated.


Kimberley recently invited Wallaces Farmer to a planter clinic at the shop, also attended by some of his customers — farmers from Iowa and adjoining states.

The first step is referring to the owner’s manual regarding your planter’s meter maintenance, says Kimberley. Even if you aren’t calibrating the meters yourself, you need to understand what’s going on. “If you send the meters to us, we clean them thoroughly, removing all graphite and seed treatment buildup that has accumulated on the inside working parts and surfaces,” he says, which includes buffing off the rust.

A range of meters

There are several types of meters. If brushes, belts, idlers, bearings or any parts need to be replaced, “we do it,” he says. “On pneumatic meters, we check the seals, meter disks, brushes, lids and housings. It’s best to replace the brushes every year. Housings can get warped from heat and use. They may need to be replaced, too.”

When meters arrive at the shop, the crew has a system for keeping meters and parts together. “You need to match each pneumatic disk with the meter it operated with the previous year,” he says. “Disks wear as they are used and create a custom fit for each meter. If you mix different disks and meters, you can have air leaks.”

Seed tubes are removed and inspected for straightness. A warped tube causes seed to ricochet and results in plant spacing problems. “We also examine each tube for wear,” he adds. “The plastic flaps may need to be replaced, or if sidewalls are worn, the tube may need to be replaced.”

Cleaning the eyes of the monitor sensor is a must. “You want the monitor to tell you right away what’s going on while you plant, so you can stop and make adjustments or correct a problem if something is going wrong,” notes Kimberley. “You don’t want to have to wait for the crop to come up, look at what’s wrong and then decide how you can avoid that problem next year. Instead, with a planter monitor you can make the correction and solve the problem now, and avoid a yield penalty this year.”

Kimberley says planter monitors are fine, “but you still need to get off the tractor and get down in back of the planter and dig in the seed furrow and evaluate your seed depth and plant spacing.”

If you send your planter seed meters to the Kimberley crew for testing and recalibrating, you need to send along some bags of the seed you are going to plant. “We highly recommend that we run your corn seed through your meters in our shop. Seed varies so much from hybrid to hybrid,” says Marty Morgan, manager of testing. “We’ve planted a lot of acres in this shop, using these calibration stands to test and properly calibrate the meters. Seed size and shape make a huge difference.”

You want to aim for 99.5% or higher singulation; you don’t want doubles or skips, notes Morgan. “We test new meters as well as used ones,” he adds. “Also, getting a uniform stand isn’t all about singulation; it’s about spacing and seed-to-soil contact, too. That’s where other adjustments or repairs to a planter are important, as well as planting at correct speed and depth.”

Managing crop residue

Besides meters and planter calibration, other topics covered at the clinic include planter operation, vacuum units, coulters, trash wheels, residue attachments and management of heavy crop residue.

There isn’t one particular type of trash wheel that works for everyone or in all conditions. Kimberley has used and compared various types of trash wheels. Because no two years are alike, he says farmers who plan to buy trash wheels should buy a floating one, with a gap between wheels.

Good seed-to-soil contact is vital. When you get off the tractor and inspect your work while planting, check to make sure everything is going well and there’s good seed-to-soil contact with no air pockets. Because conditions sometimes vary from field to field, or even parts of a field, problems can arise. Once you start doing something incorrectly or poorly, it can become a habit. “You have to be willing to change when conditions warrant it,” he says.

A common problem Kimberley sees is not having enough down pressure on planters. Units that plant 24 rows or more will need more weight on the wings for proper planting depth. “I can’t tell you how much down pressure to use because I’m not in the field with you,” he notes.

But this planter doctor does make house calls. He spends a lot of time each year visiting customers, walking their fields with them, evaluating their stands, planters and tillage systems.

Tune-up pays off

This is the second year Lance Bruch of Emmetsburg in northern Iowa has hauled his planter’s seed meters to Kimberley Ag Consulting to have them checked. “It gives me peace of mind to know they’re repaired properly if that is needed, and they’re adjusted and calibrated correctly,” says Bruch. Bruch’s planter is 3 years old. Last year he sent the meters to Kimberley, “and after Kevin’s guys worked them over, the meters planted way better.”

Bruch says he has the meters checked yearly “because it’s so critical to get the right stand. Seed is expensive, and you want to establish the correct population and get it uniform to try to reach top yield potential. Our meters plant a lot of acres each year. Even if it gains you just a bushel or two an acre, considering all the acres we run our planter, it’s well worth it.”

Randy Richter of Lime Springs last year had Kevin Kimberley come to his farm to look at corn stands and consult with Richter about tillage systems and planter performance. “Your planter and tillage system have to work together,” says Richter. “We weren’t satisfied with our tillage practices and wanted to tweak our system because we knew we could do a better job and get a better, more uniform stand. Kevin showed us how to do it.”


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CHECKUP: Farmer Lance Bruch (left) and Alex Jordan, of Kimberley Ag Consulting, inspect a planter seed meter on a test stand in Kimberley’s shop. “After only one year of use, this set of meters needed to be recalibrated,” says Jordan.

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FINE-TUNING: Little details make a big difference in planting accuracy, says Kevin Kimberley. He shows farmers how small adjustments to everything from trash wheels to press wheels to seed meters are important in achieving optimum stands.

This article published in the March, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.