Before heading to the field this season, there are some maintenance items on your planter that you should consider addressing. Some items can be done in the off-season in the shop while others should be addressed in your first field. Follow this checklist to make sure that your tractor and planter are in optimum condition to give you a successful and stress-free spring.
Check that your technology is up to date
Make sure displays and GPS receivers have a current activation and their software is up to date. Some satellite differential correction services expire in 2021, making older GPS receivers obsolete while others may need a software update. Check with your dealer to be sure your precision ag equipment is ready for spring. You should also update any tablet or iPad apps to the latest version, and make sure those devices have an active cellular plan.
If you have hydraulic or electric drives on your planter that use a radar speed input source, check that the radar is calibrated correctly and reading accurately. Some tractors no longer come with a radar, so you may need additional harnessing to feed the GPS speed to the planter instead of the radar speed.
Make sure your planter stays in line
Check for any excessive sway in the tractor’s drawbar or three-point arms as metal wear can develop over time. Check for side-to-side movement in the drawbar. If there is excessive play you may consider making a set of bushings to go over the swing pins next to the drawbar to keep it centered and free of movement.
If your planter attaches with a 2-point or 3-point connection, make sure the tractor 3-point arms are snug to the frame, but still able to move up and down. When adjusting the sway blocks, adjust each side equally so the quick hitch remains centered left to right. In some cases, you may need to purchase additional shims for the sway blocks to get them properly adjusted.
Figure 1. Adjust the sway blocks equally so the quick hitch remains centered left to right. The 3-point arms should be snug but still able to move freely, additional shims may need to be added to get the sway blocks properly adjusted.
Check your tire pressure
Changes in tire technology over the last 10 years have allowed growers to operate at lower tire pressures in the field to reduce soil compaction. Before heading to the field, check the manufacturer specifications for your specific tires to get the correct tire pressure for the weight of your planter and the speeds you plan to travel with it.
Remember to regularly check tire pressure in the field, as it is harder to notice a low tire when running at lower pressures. For more information on setting correct tire pressure, refer to our previous article on determining proper ballast and tire pressure.
Inspect the planter’s frame components for damage or signs of wear
- Hydraulic Lines. Check for wear, cracking or rubbing, paying special attention to high flex points like fold joints and wing pivots where lines may get pinched or stretched.
- Vacuum System. Remove the vacuum cover and check for small missing pieces or cracking in the impeller vanes, as this can cause issues in creating enough vacuum pressure at the meters. Remember to remove all frame plugs before heading to the field.
Figure 2. Be sure to remove vacuum frame plugs before heading to the field.
- Liquid Fertilizer System (if equipped). Inspect strainers for damage and clean out any debris. Look for kinked hoses that need to be replaced. Complete a flow check and bucket catch calibration with the product you intend to apply, to ensure it is hitting your target rates and being evenly applied across all the rows.
- Bulk Fill System (if equipped). If your planter has a bulk fill system, inspect seals and gaskets around the tanks and hoses. Air leaks can cause issues with seed delivery to the row units, including inconsistent populations and plugged delivery lines. Air leakage can also cause the main blower fan to work harder than necessary, which leads to higher power consumption.
Examine the row unit components for wear and accuracy
- Row Unit Spacing. If you have a new planter or a “new to you” used planter, use a measuring tape to ensure all row units are spaced correctly. A small offset can lead to big problems during later field operations and at harvest, especially on larger width planters.
- Double Disk Openers. Check that the double disk openers are still sharp and within the diameter tolerance specified by the manufacturer. Adjust the contact point of the disk openers using the business card check—most commonly this should be 1.75 to 2 inches.
Figure 3. Use the business card check to verify the contact point of the double disk openers, most commonly this should be 1.75 to 2 inches.
- Gauge Wheels. Adjust the contact between the gauge wheels and the disk openers so the gauge wheels are contacting the disks, but can still be turned by hand with slight pressure.
- Meters and Seed Plates. Inspect the vacuum seals and brushes on the meters. Double check that the correct seed disks, knockouts and double eliminators are installed for the crop you will be planting.
- Finger Pickups. On finger pickup planters, inspect the meters to ensure that the fingers spin freely and that all fingers open and close properly.
- Seed Placement System. Clean seed tube sensors and check the condition of the seed drop tube. If you are using a high-speed planter, check the condition of seed belts or brushes and any wear parts within the cartridge.
- Row Cleaners. Check bearings and linkages for signs of wear. On pneumatic row cleaner systems check for leaks in the airbags and airlines.
- Down Force. Check for leaks in air lines or hydraulic hoses, as well as airbags and cylinders. Be sure all gauge wheel load sensors are working and reading properly. Check these in the diagnostics on the display.
- Closing System. Inspect the bearings in the wheels. Check the alignment of the closing wheels by setting the planter down on concrete and pulling it forward 4 or 5 feet. Make sure the closing system wheels are centered over the line that is created on the concrete by the double disk openers.
Make sure your planter is running level
Once in the field, set the planter in the ground and pull it forward for a short distance to be sure the row units are fully engaged in the ground. Measure the distance from the bottom of the 7x7 frame tube to ground. This should be 20 to 21 inches on most common planters. Typically, this should be set correctly, but if you have installed different tires, adjusted tire pressures or installed tracks, then an adjustment may be needed to the frame lift wheel linkages.
Next, adjust the levelness of your planter. If the planter is pitched too far forward or backward it can limit the range of motion on the parallel arms or cause problems with the row cleaners and closing systems. With the planter still in the ground, measure the distance from the bottom of the tongue to the ground. Do this at both the rear and front of the tongue. These measurements should be close to the same. If needed an adjustment at the tractor connection point can be made. On 2-point mount planters this simply requires raising or lowering the 3-point, on drawbar type planters unbolt the hitch tang and move it up or down using the extra holes provided.