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Winter maintenance worth the effort

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Product Manager, Seed Consultants, Inc.

Have you ever heard someone say, “What do farmers do in the winter?” As you are aware, there are many answers to this question.

Winter is a great time to get ready for spring planting, which will be here before we know it. One of the most important parts of the growing season is planting. It’s crucial that your crops get off to a good start and it’s important to make sure that your planter is field-ready when the time comes. Planting seed into the best possible growing conditions is a one of the most important tasks of spring field work. A planter in need of some adjustment can result in varied seed placement, uneven emergence, and ultimately a reduction in yield potential.

Check for and replace any parts of your planter that are excessively worn. No-till coulters or disk openers that are worn out will not create the proper seed furrow and may cause poor seed placement. Good seed-to-soil contact is critical in ensuring seed germination and uniform emergence. Emergence that is uneven can cause a loss in yield potential. No-till coulters should be adjusted to operate at the same depth or slightly shallower than disk openers.

Seed firmers in good condition will also promote adequate seed-to-soil contact. Check the chains and sprockets on your planter. Make sure chains are operated at the correct tension and replace any sprockets that are worn as well as chains that are stiff, rusty, or excessively worn. Smooth chain operation is a critical component of proper planter operation and seed spacing. Any hesitation or jerk in the system will result in seed spacing that is not uniform.

One of the most important aspects of planter maintenance is calibration of your planter. Make the necessary adjustments to your planter to make certain it will plant at the population you desire. Broken or worn parts on planter units should be replaced and units should be periodically calibrated.

Along with performing maintenance on planter units make sure seed tubes are clean and are not damaged such that they will prevent even seed spacing. Calibration of your planter and units will reduce skips, doubles, and triples in seed placement. Research has shown that skips, doubles, and triples can cause a reduction in yield potential.

In the recent publication Corn Stand Establishment and Planter Maintenance, Purdue Extension Agronomist Bob Nielsen said: “Yield data from our small-plot research and from replicated strip trials indicate that about 2.5 bushels per acre are lost for every 1 inch increase in the standard deviation of the plant-to-plant spacings.” Uniform seed spacing minimizes competition between plants for water and nutrients and promotes efficient use of sunlight.

Once you’ve gone through your planter, it’s a good idea to test it out before you head to the field. It is important to evaluate a planter under conditions closely resembling those you will find in the field. Keep in mind a gravel driveway in the barnyard may work but it might not accurately resemble field conditions. Evaluate your planter’s performance at the speed you will be operating in the field. Check your planter for smooth operation, make sure seed spacing and depth is even and accurate. Making a few adjustments to your planter this winter will require some time and effort. This is time well spent and it could really pay off in the spring.

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