Ryan Hough remembers when planter maintenance meetings emphasized getting the planter ready “from the back all the way to the planter tongue.”
“Then it was, ‘Be sure the planter is ready from the ground to the cab,’ when GPS and monitors came along,” says the John Deere manager for planting and seeding equipment. “Today, it’s truly ‘from the closing wheels to the cloud.’”
Most people attend a planter clinic or see articles about basic planter maintenance every spring, he says. “What we’re seeing now is that you need to go beyond just checking meters and making repairs this time of year,” Hough says. “Our software updates for planter electronics are out now. All companies either have them out or will release them soon. Be sure you download those into your equipment as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you’re ready to go to the field.
“Clear out old data files and set up new files for each field now. That’s what we mean by doing preseason preparation all the way to the cloud.”
Jeremy Hughes, marketing equipment specialist for Horsch, emphasizes a similar approach, going one step further. “Use this time to think about and prepare everything related to the planting, not just the planter,” he says. “Plan ahead so you can get as much done in that 10- to 14-day window you might have for planting as you can.
“For example, if your planter is in good shape but it takes you 45 minutes to fill up with fertilizer because you’re dumping in 50-pound bags, maybe you need to rethink how you handle starter fertilizer. Fill-up time adds up. That’s a lot more acres you could plant per day if you can be more efficient.”
FIELD-READY: Account for all parts of the planting equation, including the logistics of getting seed to the field, notes Jeremy Hughes with Horsch.
In fact, Hughes likes to think about preparing for planting season much like race car drivers and teams getting ready for a race.
“They don’t just wait until the day of the big race to get the car out on the track,” he says. “They run the car first in tests or in practice. We need the same kind of mentality when it comes to getting ready for planting season. In most cases today, there’s no reason you can’t test out the planter ahead of time and know it’s ready to go before the first day for planting arrives.”
From ground up
Here are more specific tips for getting planters and the entire planting system ready to roll. Most tips apply regardless of the color of your planter. The emphasis is on things you might overlook, even if you’re doing the normal checks for opening disk wear and worn meter brushes.
Tire pressure on the drive wheel. You know every manual says to check tire pressure. “Checking tire pressure on the wheel driving the drive shaft of the planter, if your planter still has that setup, is often overlooked,” says Brad Niensteadt, senior product specialist for Kinze. “Sometimes guys will check tire pressure on other wheels but forget that one. It directly affects seeding rate and plant population.”
Mouse damage. Here’s why placing some mouse bait packets near the planter when it goes into storage is a good idea. “It sounds like common sense and it is, but it’s amazing how much damage mice chewing on wires can do,” Niensteadt says. “Today’s planters often have multiple wiring harnesses and lots of wires. Tracking down problems due to a wire chewed in two takes time.”
Worn gauge wheels. Most planter gauge wheels running next to disc openers where seed drops have an indentation near the disc — they’re not flat. “Over time, gauge wheels wear, and the surface may become flat,” Hough says. “You may not see the proper seed placement you expect. If they’re flat, consider replacing them.”
Gauge wheels on Case IH planters historically were designed with larger indentations near the opener than most other brands. In fact, no-tillers often preferred them for that reason. If you have a Case IH planter, pay special attention to wear on gauge wheels.
Cracked closing wheels. “People don’t think about it, but the outer rubber ring on rubber closing wheels sometimes cracks after several years of use,” Hough says. “If that happens, replace them. You probably won’t have to replace them all at once, but it’s another thing to check.”
Drive shaft alignment. “Make sure the transmission shafts driving seed meters are still in alignment,” Niensteadt says. “Kinze planters use transmission towers on the ends of the planter. Open covers and do a visual inspection. Look for loose lock clamps. Things should be tight. And inspect hangar bearings at the same time.”
Vacuum seals. On vacuum planters with seals in each row unit, inspect each seal carefully, Hough says. “Sometimes a crack will develop right in the corner, and it can be difficult to see,” he notes. “Replace it, if necessary, to get the best row-to-row accuracy.”
Vacuum plates. Maybe you haven’t looked at the plate inside each row of your vacuum units. “It should be flat and smooth,” Hough says. “If the surface looks like a vinyl record, with grooves in it, it’s wearing and should be replaced. Just replace the ones that show wear and you should be fine.”
ALL SYSTEMS GO: Make sure the planter and all the systems that support it, including fuel and fertilizer delivery, are ready before the first day for planting arrives.
Logistics. You may not consider figuring out how you’re going to move from field to field or how often you will need fuel, and if the pump for the fuel tank in the back of the pickup is good to go, as preseason prep, but you should, Hughes says. “It doesn’t take much downtime lost to little things, and you could have planted another 50 acres per day,” he says.
Seed test. For vacuum planters, testing with your grade and size of seed in advance is important, Niensteadt says. “You can determine proper vacuum settings in advance. If your dealer is checking meters, take samples of your own seed along. Or he may have different sizes and grades of seed on hand that match what you’ll use.”
Dry run in March. If your planter has electric meters, you can do a test run in the barn lot or the shop, Hughes says. “It’s another way to be as ready as you can and minimize first-day downtime,” he says.