Agronomy Talk

Agronomy Talk: Planter Preparations

Published on Friday, March 1, 2019



It is widely accepted that the planter pass is the most important pass of the season because it sets the stage for everything else. Equally important is the time spent before ever hitting the field doing planter maintenance, prep, and setup. Ensuring that your planter is operating at its peak performance and is set properly will allow you to place your seed in a properly constructed furrow. This aids in creating more uniform seed placement and, ultimately, more uniform emergence. 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 tips are true for most planting implements.


Adjusting the ride of the planter frame should be the first step in planter maintenance, and often is the easiest adjustment to make. Having a level planter bar will allow all row units to be on a level plane and adjusted independently. Place a level on the planter bar to make sure the mainframe is level, both front to back and top to bottom. The frame should run level to slightly uphill while the planter is in the down position. Planters running nose down will cause row cleaners to plow and can also cause no-till coulters to run at a depth below the disc openers. Also, planters with a nose-down orientation may lose gauge wheel contact and can put the closing system in a position that will not allow it to function properly. Adjustments to level the planter can be made by simply adjusting the hitch height of the planter.

Parallel Linkage:

With the planter in the plant position, check for movement on the row unit associated with loose or worn parallel linkage. Be sure to check for side-to-side movement as well as making sure the units move up and down freely, tighten the bolts or replace the bushing on each arm. When the parallel arm components become worn, it allows the row unit to move, potentially causing meter chatter (causing skips/doubles) erratic seed placement, open seed trenches, and air pockets within the furrow.

The parallel linkage on the planter will not allow side-to-side movement when properly maintained.

Disc Openers, No-Till Coulters, and Row Cleaners:

Disc openers need to be checked for multiple adjustments before planting begins. The overall diameter of a new disc opener in many cases is 15 in. Most manufacturers will recommend replacing disc openers that are less than 14.5 in. in diameter or a disc that is more than 0.25 in. the difference from other rows. Worn disc openers can cause a variance in planting depth across different rows and often times cannot be properly adjusted. When disc openers are properly adjusted, there should be between 1.5 in, to 2.5 in. of contact between the blades. You can measure this by sliding a business card down from the top and another up from the bottom of the disc until the cards stop and then measure the distance between the two cards.

Use business cards to measure disc contact on disc openers. Cards should be about 1.5 inches apart.

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. Seeds in this scenario will generally have an air pocket under them creating poor seed-to-soil contact and delayed emergence.

If you are utilizing a no-till coulter on your planter, it should be adjusted to maintain 0.25 in. clearance above the disc openers’ depth. This will ensure that the coulter is not disrupting the area where the furrow will be formed. A simple way to measure this is by sliding a 2x6 board under each row unit and lowering the planter. The disc openers will rest on the lumber, allowing you to measure and adjust the coulter properly.

Row cleaners should be set to move only clods and debris from the row. Adjust your row cleaners so they are not “plowing” or forming a trench ahead of the row unit. Properly adjusted row cleaners will spin only 50 to 60 percent of the time when planting unless heavy residue persists.

Meters and Seed Tubes:

Meter options have increased drastically over the past few years, but there are two main configurations: a finger pick up and vacuum meters. Finger pickup units require a bit more inspection.

Make sure to replace worn or grooved seed discs as they can greatly affect singulation. Knockoff brushes should be inspected and replaced if worn. The fingers in each meter should be tested to check for weakness and wear. Check vacuum meters to ensure the seals around the meter housing are clear of debris and provide a good seal. While servicing the meter, it is a good time to also check the meter drive units.

Ground driven planters are especially important to check drive components as there are many moving parts. Check the shafts to make sure they align and spin true and freely. Meter drive chains should be inspected for wear as well as movement on the sprockets. It’s recommended that you replace any worn sprocket or chain on the drive system as they can catch and cause the meter to skip or jump.

No matter what type of drive system or meters you use, give strong consideration to recalibrating your meters every year! Remove the meters from the planter and take them to a professional with a meter stand. It’s also beneficial at this time to acquire samples of your seed to take to the meter stand as well. This will allow the technician to set the meter to most accurately plant your seed. Meter recalibration is essential to achieve a picket fence stand.

When the meters are removed from the planter, it's also a good time to inspect the seed tubes, making sure there are no cracks, dog-ears, or uneven wear on the lower end of the tube. Worn or broken seed tubes will cause seeds to not drop in the furrow properly, creating erratic placement and disrupting singulation. Be sure to evaluate the side of the seed tubes for scarring which is generally caused by a seed tube protector or “frog” being worn down. If you find scarring on the seed tube, replace both the tube and protector.

Closing Unit:

Closing wheels are the final piece to the planting puzzle. Properly closing the seed trench provides good seed-to-soil contact without causing sidewall compaction to the extent that effects seedling emergence. Also, in no way should a closing wheel be in a position to compromise the previous placement of the seed. The adjustments on a closing system are fairly simple compared to the rest of the planter.

  • First, check to make sure the closing wheels trail directly behind the disc openers. You can check this by dropping the planter in the yard and pulling a few feet ahead to see where the trench is formed. Another way to check this is to put the planter into the plant position and, from behind the planter, slide a narrow object such as fiberglass flagsticks between the closing wheels and forward in between the disc openers until it stops. Use that to make sure the closing wheels are aligned properly.
  • Second, be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations on pitch and distance between the narrowest points of a closing wheel. Closing wheels set too close together or too wide apart will not adequately close the trench and will leave air pockets above the seed causing erratic germination and emergence.

Bulk Delivery Systems

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

  • Inspect the hopper for wear or cracks that would cause a lack of tank pressure. Be sure to check the seal around the lid of the bulk tank as well.
  • While inspecting the tank, make sure the agitator inside is functioning properly to avoid seed bridging issues in the tank. Be aware that the manifold below the bulk tank and the seed delivery hoses are great places for critters to make a home.
  • Ensure these places are clear of debris and connect/seal properly.
  • Check seed hoses for a build-up of the previous year’s talc. As bulk planters sit after use, the old talc collects moisture and has the potential to cause serious clumping issues.
  • When filling a bulk fill planter for the first time of the season, use two to three times the rate of talc. By doing so, there will be enough talc to be distributed in the tank, hoses, row units, and meters!

General Maintenance:

Inspect the hydraulic system for leaks and wear on the hose, block, and remotes. Also, check the hydraulic cylinders for leaks and wear, and that the planter raises and lowers smoothly. Another area that is often overlooked is planter tires. 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.


Your pre-season maintenance program should be carried over to the cab as well. Monitor and technology issues have quickly emerged as the number one cause of planting delays on the first day of planting.

  • Connect all technology used to operate the planter in the cab and make sure that they are communicating with each other as well as with the planter. A good practice is to clear out last year’s information to avoid confusion when planting the new crop.
  • Take the time to upload your new prescriptions and check over farm and field names and make sure there are no duplicates.
  • Make sure the monitor has the most current software, and that the thumb drive has the needed space available. Setting up the monitor before the season starts is easier than looking for data later that may have been misnamed or logged in the wrong place.
  • Check over the planting prescriptions for each field, crop type, seeding rate, and starter fertilizer blends.
  • Take the time in the driveway or barnyard to acquire a GPS signal and confirm that subscriptions for GPS upgrades are in place and being received by the tractor. 

The planter pass is the most important pass of the season, I hope this overview helps you to get 2019 off to a great start.

Please reach out to your local Beck’s representative for additional information on getting ready for planting season.

Jon Skinner | Field Agronomist 



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