When it's time to roll!

March 19, 2020 10:14 PM
Blog Post

Planting season will soon be upon us, despite the current pandemic. This ICM Blog will discuss a few key things to focus on regarding planter set-up as we approach the 2020 planting season. For a video version of this article, see Planter Maintenance and Set-up.

Proper planter set-up is critical for optimizing plant spacing no matter the color, age, or size of your planter. While newer equipment may allow us to plant in less than ideal conditions, I sometimes see those fields later in the year with interesting results—some good and some not. If you have not made adjustments to your planter set-up in the past few years, things to keep in mind include the following:

  • Row cleaners come in various configurations. However, remember with row cleaners, the concept is to not till a trench. Instead the purpose of row cleaners is to only move aside any residue from prohibiting the double-disc openers from placing seed at the proper seeding depth. In other words, tickle the soil and don’t till a path. I often see seeding depth issues related to aggressive row cleaners in no-till corn planted into soybean stubble. If you are in a strip-till system, you may be more aggressive with the row cleaners. If planting into standing fall-planted cereal cover crops, I am hesitant to use row cleaners due to wrapping and plugging from the cereal crop.
  • Single-row coulters function as a form of tillage ahead of the double-disc openers. There are several styles of single row coulters available and in most planting conditions some soil contact is desirable. The major challenge when using coulters is soil moisture and speed. The deeper we run coulters, the higher the risk of soil sticking to the coulters. Consequently, soil may be tossed from the row, especially as planter speed increases. This can result in shallower seed placement. Additionally, if soil sticks to the coulters, it can contribute to sidewall compaction. 
  • One can make the case that the double-disc openers are the single most important thing on your planter. The double-disc openers will allow proper seed depth and slice an opening to properly place the seed at the ideal planting depth. If you are not sure the last time you purchased new ones, I recommend you do some measuring to check for wear on the openers. With most planters, the double-disc openers should measure 15” in diameter; however, this can vary based on the brand. There should never be more than a ½” of wear. When worn openers are used, it typically results in “hair pinning” of residue causing shallow planting depth. 
  • If increasing planter speed, more down pressure is needed. How much more pressure depends on soil moisture conditions and residue cover. Take time to get out and check field conditions and planter settings to make sure the seed is getting placed at the proper depth. Make adjustments as needed. For more information see High Speed Planting Technology.
  • There are numerous closing wheel and drag chain setups; however, their functions are the same: to provide proper seed-to-soil contact. This is critical to help with even crop emergence. Also, consider as planter speed increases, down-pressure should be increased. Almost any set-up can mash the seed slot closed; however, ask yourself “do you want the seed slot to open back up after it dries?” Again, taking time to check behind the planter and look for good seed-to-soil contact in the furrow, as well as potential issues like compaction or malformation of the seed furrow is worth the effort while planting.

Be sure to monitor seed depth while planting as all the technology in the world is no substitute for a pair of pliers and digging behind the planter. The technology is fabulous to watch and can greatly improve the capacity for most farmers. Nevertheless, it is still important to ground truth planter settings. Do not “set it and forget it” as soil conditions vary from field to field and even within a field. Take the time to make the proper adjustments. 


Aaron Saeugling Field Agronomist in SW Iowa

Aaron Saeugling is a field agronomist in southwest Iowa for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.