Maximize your yield potential by fine-tuning your planter before its first pass this spring.

“Planter maintenance is important because it affects a lot of things,” says Clay Scott, Precision Planting product support specialist. “It affects depth, emergence, spacing, singulation and ultimately yield.”

Scott shows how planter maintenance impacts the bottom line with the following scenario in which improper planter setup resulted in plant damage:

  • 1 plant damaged every 17.5 feet
  • 1 leaf collar behind = ½ ear loss on that plant = 3.5 bushel per acre loss 
  • 3.5-bushel loss on $6 corn = $2,100 on 100 row acres

“We need to think about whether this was a maintenance issue or a management issue,” Scott says. “We need to eliminate variables when starting the year off fresh, so that if we have a plant issue, we know it was a management problem because we took care of our planter maintenance.”

Strip-tillers should spend their first day in the field making sure their equipment is in good shape, Scott says, so they don’t have to worry about maintenance later in the season. 

“Day 1 is not a race,” he says. “Grandpa always told us if you don’t do things right, don’t do them at all. I want to encourage people to think of the first day as a write-off. We need to step back and take the day to make sure everything is right.”’

Once the planter is out of the shed, the first thing to do is check if the bar is level. 

“Planter maintenance affects depth, emergence, spacing, singulation and ultimately yield…"

“Take a leveler and put it right on the bar,” Scott says. “Make sure the bar is level to the ground because it will tip that row unit forward or back. If it tips the coulter deeper than it should be, it will create a false bottom. Even emergence is critical to yield, and all this maintenance ties back to emergence. On the first day in the field, make sure the parallel arms are level. Walk alongside the planter and make sure they’re straight with the bar.”

Scott also recommends checking if tires are adequately inflated so side-to-side variability doesn’t become an issue.

Determining whether your disc openers need to be replaced is the next critical step because they’re the biggest contributors to depth control, Scott says.

“Make sure your disc openers are big enough — it’s just as important as your fertilizer choices and inputs,” he says. “Every disc opener is going to wear differently depending on your scenario. If you’re heavy no-till, then you probably need to look at replacing them every year. If you’re planting into cotton candy, then you’re going to get a couple years out of them. 

“John Deere and Kinze disc openers are 15 inches new, and when they get to 14.5 inches, they need to be replaced. A Case IH 2000 is 14 inches new and at 13.5 inches has seen its usable life. Case IH 1200 is 15 inches new and junk at 14.5 inches. White 9000 series is 16 inches new and needs to be replaced at 15.5 inches, while White 8000 is 15 inches new and junk at 14 inches.”

“Day 1 is not a race. Step back and take the day to make sure everything is right…”

Gauge wheels are next on Scott’s checklist, as they also play a big role in depth control.

“How much weight should you carry on your gauge wheels?” Scott asks. “I couldn’t tell you. It’s a management decision based on what you’re seeing on your farm. No-tillers can probably carry a little less weight on their gauge wheels because they don’t need the firming action to hold the sidewall open as much, but they probably have to apply more downforce to actually get into the ground. It’s somewhat of a two-way street.”

Scott encourages growers to perform a block test to assess gauge wheels. Place 4x4 blocks under the gauge wheels, set the planter down and make sure the disc openers aren’t touching the ground.

“We want the disc openers hanging in the air,” Scott says. “Set your depth to 2 inches. Before you put the blocks under the gauge wheels, mark a line at 2 inches, 2.25 inches and 2.5 inches on the sides of the blocks, so that the disc openers hang right beside the line, and you can see how far they’re going. You’ll see variability across the entire planter, even on a brand new one. We can change our depth based on those lines.”

Don’t forget to tighten the bearings in the closing wheels so they’re not flopping back and forth, Scott adds. He also says strip-tillers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a clean seed box. 

“If we leave seed in there, it will attract mice,” he says. “They will crawl up the seed tube and chew through anything to get to the seed.”

Planter Maintenance Webinar

Precision Planting’s Clay Scott leads an interactive crash course on planter maintenance. Click here to watch the session.