With the approach of another spring comes the recognition by growers that there’s a long list of required tasks to finish prior to the start of planting.
Among the many things that occur on farms nationwide each spring is the process of conducting repairs on equipment in advance of any major fieldwork beginning. One piece of equipment that should never be overlooked is the planter and anything else related to its operation — all of which are important because of the bottom-line implications of not minding the details.
“I believe we’ve moved into a stage where input management is a key to retaining profitability. There’s too much at stake not to pay attention to equipment performance,” says John Fulton, an associate professor and Extension specialist at Auburn University.
Given this, Fulton recommends giving planters a thorough inspection as part of a yearly, preseason ritual, which should help eliminate errors during planting time.
“Every season brings something different, so at a minimum, you need to refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure you’ve got things set up properly,” notes Fulton.
Fulton suggests starting the whole process at the meter level by opening them up and checking to make sure there is no excessive wear on the plate or other components. Checking clearances to see if adjustments are needed and looking at all the brushes are a part of the initial inspection process — but don’t stop there.
“Doing the work yourself is fine as long as you have the capacity and time. Otherwise, find someone else to help you, but you need to do these steps yearly, or even between crops to make sure the planter is operating properly,” says Fulton, adding that taking meters off and getting them calibrated at a dealership is also a good investment.
Don’t overlook planter monitors, as they are also an important part of the equation. And just like any piece of equipment, some fine-tuning may be needed to ensure they’re operating properly.
“You need to be aware of software upgrades, and install them in the off-season. And don’t forget to back up the prior season’s data on a laptop or hard drive, so you can have it available for future reference,” says Fulton.
It’s a lot to think about — and do — which is why proper planter setup takes not only careful planning, but also time to get all the work completed. In short, it cannot be a last-minute endeavor you get started on a week before planting time if you expect positive results.
“Ideally, you should start the preseason process in the fall before you put the planter away in winter storage,” says John Nowatzki, an agricultural machine systems specialist at North Dakota State University.
But Nowatzki believes the preseason process also requires taking a look at ongoing issues and past results — all while keeping in mind what it is the planter ultimately needs to do for you: Plant seeds at the right space and depth.
“You should review last year’s planting issues and think about how the planter performed. For example, did you have problems with depth last year? If so, any problems identified from last year should be the first things taken care of in the preseason this year,” says Nowatzki.
“How much time you spend on inspections and maintenance will depend on the machine, but you really need to look both forward and backward at the same time to make sure you’re covering everything,” he concludes.
Even after you’ve gone through all the necessary inspections and repairs, there are still additional steps you can take to ensure the likelihood of another successful planting season.
Clean and prep the equipment, make your repairs and adjustments, and then take the planter out to the field for some test passes when the weather allows. The key is to test for seed depth and spacing, and use these results to determine what adjustments need to be made before the real planting starts.
Is all of this time-consuming? Absolutely. But there’s too much money at stake at the end of the growing season to not pay attention to all of the inputs at the beginning of the season.
Remember, you’re only as good as your equipment, so make sure the planter doesn’t get moved to the bottom of your to-do list this spring.
- Yontz writes from Urbandale, Iowa.
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