In-Field Planter Adjustments--It's not too late!
While the majority of planter adjustments should have taken place when the planter was parked in the shop or in the yard, there are still adjustments to make once you hit the field to plant. And not only should you make them when you first get to the field, they are factors that should be checked multiple times throughout the planting season. This blog post will cover some of those important adjustments as well as the impact they can have if they aren’t adjusted correctly. Read on to make sure your planter is set up for a successful run this year.
Level your Frame!
One of the first things you should do when you get to the field is to get your planter level. If you are not running with a level planter you may have uneven depth, inconsistent seed spacing, poor residue removal, poor seed to soil contact and trouble getting the slot closed. This is one of the easiest fixes you can do all year. Set your planter down, get the frame level, and set your set points to automatically stop at that position so you are ready for the rest of the year.
Last week we covered the importance of depth. You know why it matters, but when was the last time you took time to check all the components that go into depth? Make sure you are including looking at residue removal, gauge wheel settings, gauge wheel wear, and seed firmer wear to get the full perspective of factors that may impact depth. Remember to aim for deeper than 1.5 inches to allow for appropriate seed and root development, and ideally closer to 2 inches. Most importantly, make sure you are planting into adequate moisture.
Seed to soil contact is critical for uniform emergence. If closing wheels are not set correctly, the seed vee may remain open or partially open causing seeds to not germinate uniformly. If the closing wheels are performing correctly, there should not be any air pockets in the seed furrow. To check for this, try and open up a cross section of the row and not just remove soil from the top down like we do when checking for seed depth. This will allow you to see if you have any area that is not getting fully closed. Figure 1 shows an example cross section of a seed furrow that was not closed completely. Adjust your closing wheels to make better seed to soil contact and break up any sidewall compaction.
The exact value for down pressure may vary a lot from field to field and as conditions change. You should change your down pressure to compensate for any changes in soil conditions between fields. Correct down pressure will allow for firm contact between the gauge wheels and the soil. A rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be able to turn the gauge wheel when the planter is set down on the ground. However, you should not be seeing tracks from the gauge wheels pushing down too hard either. Additionally, too much pressure will cause un-needed wear on components. Shaun Dilliott of Kearney Planters suggests that if you cannot dig the seed up with your finger, your down force is probably too high. He also suggests checking downforce when the planter is only ¼ full. When the planter is full, you are more likely to have enough weight on each unit. We should be more concerned that we have enough down pressure when the additional weight of the seed isn’t there.
Verifying that you are planting what you want to be planting is important. No one wants to get to the end of the field and find out they planted 5000 less seeds per acre than they were aiming for. The best way to verify population is to tie up the closing wheels on several rows. This will let the trash wheels and gauge wheels do their thing and make it easier for you to check seed placement and population behind them. Make sure you plant far enough to get up to speed so you have a representative sample of how your planter is normally performing. Measure off 1/1000th of an acre. (17 feet 5 inches for 30 inch row spacing) Count the seeds present in that range and multiply by 1000 to get the seeds per acre. Verify this number against what your planter monitor is telling you. If the value is off, you may want to perform some calibrations or look at the settings in the monitor.
· Occasionally dust off the seed tube sensors to make sure are getting appropriate readings.
· Take the time to walk around and check these settings. Its good for you to stretch your legs and help your mental well-being.
· Check that your trash wheels are just moving residue and not soil. We don’t want to create a trench that could place the seed at the wrong depth, in cooler soils, or result in erosion.
· If using coulters, or even when looking at double disc openers, make sure the discs are cutting through the residue cleanly and not just pinning the residue in the seed furrow. This doesn’t allow for good seed to soil contact. Seeds trapped in damp residue will often attempt to germinate but run out of moisture and be unable to germinate.