Your yield potential is greatest on the day you put the seed in the ground. Your planter plays a significant role in reaching that potential.
All planters have one thing in common—they can be serious money makers on the farm if configured and set correctly. At the same time, lack of attention to operational details can cause a train wreck that hampers yields all season.
There are some basic things farmers can do to ensure uniform spacing and emergence of soybeans. Follow this checklist to make sure your planter is ready for top-notch performance for the coming year:
- Level the Bar
- Check the planter frame and row units to ensure the planter is running parallel to the ground. If not level from front to rear, improper seed placement will occur; adjustments can be made at the tractor hitch. Also, check to ensure it is level from side to side. Operate the hydraulic system, raising and lowering the planter to ensure all cylinders are phased correctly. If not, individual row units can have unequal down pressure.
- Drive System
- Check all wheels for worn bearings or low tire pressure. Incorrect tire pressure can lead to an un-level planter. Replace worn drive chains (no kinks in the chain) and sprockets. If equipped with electric drives, check motors to ensure all are in working condition and calibrated.
- Check Disc Openers
- Disc opening blades should be checked and replaced when the diameter of the blade is worn ½ inch. For example, if new openers are 15 inches and the old ones are 14 ½ inches, consider replacing. When replacing openers, replace all openers to maintain consistent depth. Otherwise, new openers will place the seed deeper than older ones, even on the same depth setting. Check for the correct contact spacing between each disc opener. To check place two business cards between the two disc openers from the top and bottom, push until the cards are stuck, and measure the distance. The correct point-of-contact distance should be between 1.5 and 2 inches.
- Seed Meters
- Make sure all seed meter mechanisms are in proper operating condition. Check seed discs to make sure no excessive wear has occurred. Depending on your planter type use talc, graphite or a mixture of both. These can have a positive effect on seed placement, especially on high-humidity, high-temperature days. Seed treatments can build up under those conditions and may make it necessary to double the amount of talc or graphite used.
- Gauge Wheels
- Check gauge wheel bearings and gauge wheel arms to make sure no parts need to be replaced. A worn bearing or gauge wheel arm will not allow for a proper sidewall to form in the seed trench, preventing good seed-to-soil contact.
- Down Pressure
- Run proper down pressure to allow for consistent seed placement and seed trench formation. Too much pressure will compact the soil around the soybean seed and not allow for good early season growth. Soybeans are highly sensitive to compaction, more so than corn. Down pressure that’s too light can result in poor seed sidewall formation and seed-to-soil contact.
- Closing Wheels
- Closing wheels must be adjusted to be over the center of the seed trench. Apply just enough down pressure to maintain good seed-to-soil contact. If too much is applied compaction can occur, resulting in early season stunting.
- Trial Run
- Take 15 minutes and do a test in the field to make sure all components are working correctly, verifying down pressure, seed depth, spacing and other parameters are in the correct ranges. This 15 minutes can save a year’s worth of problems.
Taking time in early spring to evaluate the planter and row units and keep the rig in shape is one of your best investments in maximizing yield.
Nick Marley is an agronomist and Certified Crop Adviser. He has a B.S. in agronomy and crop science from the University of Illinois and is working on a Master’s in agronomy and crop science at Iowa State University. He is a 2017 Illinois Soybean Association CCA Soy Envoy.