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12 Income-Boosting No-Till Planter Adjustments
Here are a dozen simple adjustments you can't afford to ignore to improve no-till yields.
By Katherine Meitner, Associate Editor
IT ALL STARTS with the planter, Gregg Sauder of Tremont, Ill., told 660 attendees at the seventh annual National No-Tillage Conference in St. Louis, Mo. He says no-tillers concerned with yields and stands should turn their attentions to the no-till planter to receive optimum crop performance.
"Yield comes from ear count and nothing else," Sauder explains. "It's not plant population. There are two things that are going to drive ear count-seed spacing and seed depth."
Sauder says these two key factors can make-or break-your no-till success. And the first thing every no-tiller should do before a seed is planted is to thoroughly check the planter. Here's Sauder's top dozen ways to ensure your no-till planter success in 1999.
1. DON'T SET PLANTER HEIGHT ON GRAVEL.
"Pull your no-till planter into the field where the tires are in the actual working conditions," Sauder says. "Otherwise, you can really get mixed up."
2. CHECK THE PLANTER HITCH.
This, Sauder says, means keeping the right height at the front of the planter. "If you've got your planter too low, it will nose down," he says. "If it's nosed down, the seed tube will change the pitch of the delivery and start to float seed. This means you're going to get seed about a half-inch above the bottom of the seed slot and that's going to cost you."
How does one check for this? Simple, Sauder says, just ask your wife for help. "You can't do it by yourself in the field," he says. "If you get in your tractor cab, drive 100 feet, jump out, run around and come back, I can guarantee that it's going to look level to you."
Sauder explains that once the planter is stopped, the springs relax. But the moment it is in motion again, the nose will most likely point downhill.
"You're going to have to do it on the fly," he says. "Get your wife or somebody to run the planter for you and watch it come by you."
Sauder suggests the planter needs to be set to run 1/2-inch high on the front. If you can't get that, he says, make sure you at least have it level. One way to evaluate your planter is to measure the toolbar with a level. "I like to see that 7- by 7-inch toolbar about 20 inches from the ground," he says.
3. CHECK YOUR PARALLEL ARMS.
"As soon as you pick up tension, the planter is going to nose down and cause multiple problems," Sauder explains. "It's going to make your no-till coulter run too deep, cause uneven seeding depth and create problems in the parallel linkage itself."
Sauder suggests checking the planter's parallel arms while it's still in the shed. Grab hold of the back of the planter and shake it. If the planter moves back and forth, go to your local machinery dealer and purchase the necessary replacement parts. No-tillers who wait too long may be forced to buy an entirely new arm. The ideal difference should be 12 1/4 inches between parallel arms. "If it isn't, it's going to bind and give you depth control problems," he says.
4. BE AWARE OF DOWN PRESSURE.
"If you walk up to your planter when it's in the field, kick the gauge wheel and it rolls, you're telling me you don't have it in the ground deep enough," he says. "On the other hand, if you reach down and can't make it spin at all, you have too much pressure." Ideally, Sauder says, you should be able to grab the gauge wheel with one hand and make it turn in the dirt.
5. CHECK NO-TILL COULTER DEPTH.
"If it's too deep," he says, "It can cause a multitude of problems-like a false-bottomed trench-and the seed is not going to know where to land."
How do you avoid the wrong coulter depth? "The easiest way I know is to take a 2 by 6 and set it underneath the individual planting unit," he says. "As soon as you get good pressure on your opening disc, you should be able to roll those no-till coulters."
6. USE TRASHWHEELS.
"I'm a real believer in trashwheels in our operation," he says. "They have multiple purposes and give the no-till planter a much better ride."
The trashwheels are to clear the path of the coulters and eliminate debris. "I want to see those row cleaners just moving a small amount of residue ahead of that no-till coulter," he says, "letting the no-till coulter do the small amount of tillage we need to get the disc opener into the ground."
Seeding depth, Sauder says, can also be a serious problem if the coulter is running too deep. Once again, the best way to ease your conscience is to check it yourself and make sure it is not a problem.
"Remove your gauge wheel and take a piece of folded notebook paper and slide it through the opening," he says. "You'd better hope it doesn't go all the way through.
"Next, take a piece of chalk and mark where the paper stopped. Now do the same thing on the other side, marking where the paper stopped. After you're done, you should have about 2 1/2 inches between those two points."
Once this is accomplished and the desired results are achieved, you should have a very accurate feed with successful germination. "If not," he says, "You're going to have corn as much as a 1/2-inch difference in height."
7. DOUBLE-CHECK THE SEED TUBE.
"They can wear out fast," Sauder explains, "but fortunately, they're fairly inexpensive to replace." When purchasing a new seed tube, be sure to hold it up to a light source and look through it. "You'd be surprised how many times I've found a burr or curled piece of plastic in there. Take your pocket knife out and make sure it's smooth. It can be a real problem," Sauder advises.
8. CHECK THE GAUGE WHEEL.
Gauge wheels have a tremendous amount of pressure on them. The wheels will often appear to be separating from the opening wheel, causing a lot of wear. The key is to have your gauge wheels touching the side of your opening disc.
"There are a zillion replacement kits out there, ranging from cheap to extremely expensive," he says. "But whatever you have to do, do it. If your wheels aren't touching the disc, what happens? The whole inside gets full of dirt-and that should be your key sign. If this happens, you'll be planting both seed and dirt. If you can spin that wheel and all of a sudden you see that opening disc want to start to turn, it's just right."
9. WATCH YOUR SPEED.
"Seed tubes are designed to be run at 5 miles per hour," he says. "Anytime you start going faster, you're going to see deviation and your seeding rate will vary."
10. KEEP AN EYE ON THE PLANTER BEARINGS.
"You can set your meters so they are almost perfect, but put them on a planter that's got sticky bearings and it's going to send rough vibrations through the planter and result in skips," he says.
"If you really need to put a wrench on your planter to turn it, then maybe we should have a serious talk about the condition of the rest of your no-till planter."
11. MONITOR THOSE CLOSING WHEELS.
"The biggest problem I've seen is when the actual rubber gauge on the cast iron spike is going right over the seed," Sauder says.
"How do you check? Put your planter on a patch of concrete and let your disc opener strike a line right where your seed is and walk behind each row and look. You'll know if you need to go left or right."
12. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS ON TIRE PRESSURE.
"It may seem really simple," he says, "but it can save a lot of headaches. Go by the recommendations on your tires. It'll make the planter run smoother, in turn letting everything run more smoothly."
Sauder fully believes with precision agriculture moving toward the new millennium, the key to successful no-till farming revolves around proper care and maintenance of the planter. It'll help make your seedings ideal, stands uniform and increase your income.
"If you have a barren stock or are short some ears in the field, get off the combine and find out why," Sauder concludes. "About 95 percent of the time it will deal with your planter and planting depth."