Agronomy Talk

Agronomy Talk: Planter Preparations

Published on Friday, March 1, 2019

The planter pass is the most important pass of the season. It sets the stage for everything else. Equally important is the time spent doing planter maintenance, prep, and set up. Each planter or row-unit manufacturer has specific guidelines as to how to set and adjust specific equipment, so always reference the owner’s manual, but the following holds true for most planting implements.

FRAME: A level planter bar puts all row units on a level plane to be adjusted independently.

  • Check that the planter bar is level from front to back and left to right. Planters running nose-down will:
    • Cause row cleaners to plow
    • Cause no-till coulters to run at a depth below the disc openers
    • May lose gauge wheel contact
    • Put the closing system in a position that will not allow it to function properly
  • Adjust the level by changing the hitch height. If 2-point planter raise or lower tractor 3-point hitch. If drawn, raise or lower the planter/tractor hitch.

PARALLEL LINKAGE: When the parallel arm components become worn, the row-unit can move, potentially causing meter chatter (causing skips/doubles), erratic seed placement, open seed trenches, and air pockets within the furrow.

  • With the planter in plant position, check for movement on the row unit:
    • Side-to-side movement
    • Ensure units move up and down freely
  • Tighten bolts or replace the bushing on each arm.
  • Check parallel arms: If not caught early enough, the arm will have to be replaced or re-sleeved. To check if the arm and bushing are worn, purchase a new bushing and compare it to the old arm.
    • Check more frequently if planting high speed.
    • Follow this link for a kit to re-sleeve parallel arms:

DISC OPENERS, NO-TILL COULTERS, AND ROW CLEANERS: Opening systems that do not have adequate contact between the discs will not form a proper v-shaped seed furrow. Worn and misadjusted disc blades will form a seed furrow that resembles a “w”, where seeds can fall on either side of the ridge in the furrow.

  • 15 in. disc openers should be replaced if they are worn to 14.5 in.
    • Adjust disc openers – there should be about 1.5 in. of contact between the blades
    • Cause no-till coulters to run at a depth below the disc openers
  • No-till coulters should maintain 0.25 in. clearance above the disc openers’ depth.
  • Row cleaners should only move clods and debris from the row.
  • Properly adjusted row cleaners only spin 50 to 60 percent of the time when planting, unless in heavy residue.
  • Adjust disc openers so there is about 1.5 to 2 in. of blade-to-blade contact.
    • Check your owner’s manual for exact specs. Check multiple places around the disc blades to get an average of contact.
  • Too tight of blade-to-blade contact might generate too much side load on the bearings. This can lead to
    premature wear.
  • Too loose of blade-to-blade contact can cause a “w” shaped trench. This could prevent seeds from landing at the bottom of the trench, resulting in inconsistent seed depth, which can lead to uneven emergence.
  • If replacing seed disc openers, make sure to replace the seed tube guard. An in-spec guard will help keep the bottom of the seed trenches wide enough, allowing the seeds to fall to the bottom. Seed discs might flex to compensate for a worn seed tube guard, which can cause premature bearing failure in the openers.

GAUGE WHEEL: Gauge wheels should be set so they lightly contact the seed disc openers. If wheels are set for too much contact, it can wear the rubber on the gauge wheel. If set too tight, mud from wet conditions can build up inside and get stuck. If set too loose in dry planting conditions, dry soil can be dropped from the inside of the gauge wheels into the seed trench.

  • Make sure the gauge wheel arms and studs are not worn. Follow this link for a kit to tighten gauge wheel arms:

INDEXING THE ROW UNIT: This vital step will find any row-to-row variance with depth settings.

  • Set the depth the same on all rows. Then, set 4 ft. x 4 ft. blocks under the gauge wheels and place the planter on top of them. Measure from the bottom of the disc opener to the floor. If variance exists from row-to-row, then some depth parts could possibly be worn.
  • Parts to check and replace if worn:
    • Most planter manufactures use different depth mechanisms. Many different parts can be worn and cause variance in planting depth row to row. Be familiar with these parts and check them on a yearly basis. Parts include: gauge wheel arms, d-rings, frogs or mustaches, and others. Follow this link for a kit to fix gauge wheel arms if they are worn at the depth stop:

METERS AND SEED TUBES: Meter calibration is essential to get that picket fence stand. Worn/broken seed tubes will cause seeds not to drop in the furrow properly, resulting in erratic placement and poor singulation.

  • Seed tubes:
    • No cracks, dog ears, or uneven wear
    • Scarring on the side of the seed tube is typically from a protector. Replace them if you see scarring.
  • Finger pickup unit:
    • Replace worn or grooved seed discs
    • Inspect knockoff brushes and replace them if needed
    • Test each finger to check for weakness and wear
  • Vacuum meter:
    • Seals around meter housing should be clear and seal well
  • Meter ground units:
    • Shafts align and spin true and freely
    • Inspect meter drive chains for wear and movement on the sprockets (worn sprockets or chain can cause the meter to jump)
    • Recalibrate meters annually for best singulation
  • At the end of the season, make sure to remove seed discs for storage.
  • Speed tubes: Certain brands of speed tubes require removing the belt or brush for storage. Check your owner’s manual for instructions.

CLOSING WHEELS: Properly closing the seed trench provides good seed-to-soil contact without causing sidewall
compaction. Closing wheels set too close together or too wide will not adequately close the trench and will leave air
pockets above the seed.

  • Closing wheels trail directly behind the disc openers. Test by dropping the planter and pulling ahead a few feet
  • Closing wheel pivot bushings can wear. Check these by moving the closing wheel tail side-to-side. This is important because if there is too much wear, the wheels will not stay centered over the seed trench.
  • If worn, replace the tail and bushings. Follow this link for a kit to install a bearing into a worn tail:

BULK DELIVERY SYSTEMS: Bulk seed systems are great for quick fill and easy seed handling, but if not properly
serviced, can cause numerous planting issues.

  • Check the hopper and the seal for wear or cracks that would cause a lack of tank pressure.
  • Check that the agitator inside is functioning properly to avoid seed bridging issues in the tank.
  • Check that the manifold is below the bulk tank and the seed delivery hoses are clear of debris and connect/seal properly.
  • When filling a bulk-fill planter for the first time each season, use two to three times the rate of talc so there will be enough talc distributed in the tank, hoses, row units, and meters!


  • Inspect the hydraulic system for leaks and wear on the hose, block, and remotes.
  • Check the hydraulic cylinders for leaks and wear, and that the planter raises and lowers smoothly.
  • Check tires for proper PSI and wear, especially on mechanically driven planters. Proper PSI will make sure the planter is level as it travels through the field.

TECHNOLOGY/MONITORS: Monitor and technology issues have quickly become the number one cause of delays on the first day of planting.

  • Update all software to the latest version.
  • Connect all technology and make sure everything is communicating with each other and with the planter.
  • Clear out last year’s information to avoid confusion when planting the new crop.
  • Upload new prescriptions and review farm and field names.

Check over planting prescriptions for proper fields, crop type, seeding rate, and starter fertilizer blends, and
upload to the monitor.

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Jon Skinner

Jon Skinner

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