Preseason planter preparation pays off now, as well as down the road at harvest time. The planter sets the stage for a successful crop. 

It happened again. Maybe a little earlier this year than normal, though.

I was driving down our road and spotted my neighboring farmer, Mike, standing at the edge of a field. He was looking out over the acreage, with that look on his face. Yes, he was mentally preparing for spring and the coming planting season.

When I stopped to talk with him about his plans for the coming crop, I also asked if he had his equipment ready for the spring push. Of course, he did. He’s been building up to this all winter. But our conversation got me to thinking: What exactly is involved with getting all that equipment ready, especially planters?

After all, the planter really sets the stage for a successful crop. So, with planting season just around the corner, I did a little research and came up with a few points for planter prep every corn and soybean producer should consider. After all, a properly fine-tuned planter is ready to work accurately, efficiently, and with little to no downtime.

  • Give the planter an overall inspection. Check out the frame for any cracks, bowing or separated welds. Left unattended, this kind of wear can be dangerous and expensive to repair later in the season.

Make sure the hydraulic system is ready for the job at hand. Look over cylinders, hoses and hydraulic lines for any leaks. Fixing leaky hoses now means you won’t be dealing with them later in the field.

Pay attention to the driveline, as well. Inspect the drive shafts and couplers for twisting or abnormal wear. Rusted chains can be freed up by soaking them in diesel fuel or chain lube.

  • Pay particular attention to the row units. Make sure down-pressure springs, parallel linkages and bushings are all in good shape. If you find any broken, twisted or worn parts on the shanks, repair or replace, as needed.

Some planters have firming points, shoes or inside scrapers. These items will need to be replaced on a regular basis, depending on your soil type.

Make sure the inside scrapers haven’t worn on the seed tubes. Worn seed tubes can lead to erratic and improper seed placement, so make sure they’re in good working order. If you’re noticing wear on the tubes, consider tungsten carbide inserts to prevent scrapers and disc openers from cutting into the tubes.

  • Check out the disc openers. Of course, you’re going to replace any chipped, cracked and abnormally worn disc blades. But also measure the blades across the center to determine the level of wear. Most new disc opener blades measure 15 inches. If a blade shows more than a half inch of wear, it’s time for a new blade. And remember, always replace disc openers in pairs.

Mismatching new and used blades can cause issues with proper soil penetration, especially in hard ground. And, mismatched blades can create an abnormally shaped seed trench, leading to poor seed placement.

If your planter has flat disc scrapers, be sure to replace them after about a half inch of wear, or if the scrapers don’t contact the disc openers firmly along the entire width of the scraper.

For rotary scrapers, replace well before the scraper mounting contacts the opener blade.

  • Make sure the gauge wheels are in good working order. A row unit gauge wheel should make contact with the disc opener blade, acting as a second scraper when the row unit is in the ground.

If the gauge wheel is not making proper contact, adjust the shims in the gauge wheel arm. You might have to replace the arm or the bushings for proper fit. And don’t forget the tires. They can also wear out, losing their shape and edge. Replace as needed.

  • All planters have some sort of closing system. Make sure yours is doing the job right by thoroughly inspecting bearings, pivot points and axles. Check the down-pressure springs for broken or cracked parts. And look over the closing discs. They have small bearings and blades that can wear out easily.
  • Finally, take some time to inspect, adjust and repair the planter’s metering system.

For mechanical finger meters, examine the wheel for broken fingers and springs that might be over-stretched.

The carrier plate needs a once-over, too. Make sure it has not worn through the dimple in the plate. The plate’s hill-and-valley design is essential for preventing doubles. If it’s worn more than halfway through, it should be replaced.

Doubles can also be caused by cracked, hardened or misshaped seed belts. Now’s the time to replace them, as well as any belt sprocket teeth that are becoming hook-shaped. Hooked teeth can make the seed belt jump, increasing wear and tear on seed belt and meter drive parts.

For planters with brush meters, check the individual cells on the seed plates, making sure that they’re not malformed. The brushes may need replaced, as well. If the bottom brush is missing more than 10 percent of its bristles, replace it. Replace the upper brush, though, if any bristles are missing, bent, or worn off.

Brush meters have a wear band along the inside of the meter housing to prevent seed from wearing into the casing. When this band looks thin, take steps to replace it.

If you have a vacuum and air pressure type planter, make sure you recharge the air system and check for any leaks early on. Pay attention to the dust seals, as well. Worn seals can allow dust to get into the system, potentially damaging air pumps.

No doubt planter prep can demand quite a bit of work. Of course, you can enlist your equipment dealer to help with preseason planter inspections and repairs.

Either way, an investment in properly prepping your planter will pay off now and at harvest.