With a long winter coming to an end, our focus now turns to planter setup. While we often focus on new equipment and updates to our planters, knowledge of the basic function of the planter and the role each part of the planter plays in seeding depth and spacing, as well as upkeep of these parts is key to success this spring.
Modern day planters have rapidly evolved to give operators significant adjustability and monitoring capabilities that older planters did not offer. We have transitioned from manual adjustments on planters to hydraulic electric or air adjustments. These adjustments often are visible on multiple monitors in the cab. As adjustments occur, we need to ask ourselves how setting changes affect the planting depth, spacing, or population. Often, I see adjustments made in the field where we made changes due to soil conditions to get the planter to function in less than ideal soil moisture, which can result in emergence and establishment problems.
Here are fundamentals to watch for this spring focusing on trash whippers, depth gauge wheels, closing wheels, and down pressure.
The number one challenge we face is variable moisture and soil conditions at the time of planting. Trash whippers play an important role and they facilitate planting into a more consistent seedbed. Their basic role is to move residue, NOT to make a tilled strip and cause a furrow affect. If your planter has fixed or manually adjustable row cleaners, make sure they are not tilling a furrow. Another option to consider is air or hydraulic adjustable row cleaners, these are often called floating row cleaners. This is a great upgrade for those wanting to start no-till planting.
When it comes to depth gauge wheels, many new modern styles allow for planting in moisture conditions conventional gauge wheels will not operate. The style of these is a farmer preference, but the goal is to maintain uniform planting depth and minimize bounce of the row unit. Make sure you remove the gauge wheels each year and look for wear. It is critical to remove the gauge wheels if you have found yourself in “sticky” situations while planting.
Like with depth gauge wheels, the “proper” closing wheel is another issue of farmer preference based on experience or soil conditions. Remember the goal of the closing wheel is not to smear the planting slot closed. The function is to firm the soil around the seed to eliminate air pockets and avoid compaction. I have seen literally every type of configuration you can think of and dozens of options. Most standard planter setups include two rubber closing wheels that work in a variety of conditions. When planting in sandy soil conditions cast iron closing wheels can help to close the soil trench and firm up loose soil to provide good seed to soil contact. The other most common type are spiked closing wheels. We need to be careful with spiked wheels so that we avoid air pockets that reduce seed to soil contact. To prevent this, we often see one rubber wheel and one spiked wheel. Use your experience and preference to choose the best option for your fields.
The final thing to consider is down pressure on depth gauge wheels and closing wheels. Settings for down pressure are highly variable and need to be monitored often as soils and moisture conditions change going across the field and from one field to the next field.
So, for the best stand this year after you have made upgrades or maintenance to your planter, SLOW DOWN and enjoy the ride. Remember big, fast planters also make bigger mistakes faster when problems occur.
Check out this video on planter maintenance and set-up.