With today’s modern planting monitors, keeping tabs on planter performance is easier then ever before; however, it doesn’t hurt to take a break to do some double-checking, says a University of Wisconsin planter specialist.

Matthew Digman says taking field breaks reduces operator fatigue and stress, which can distract from safely operating equipment. Plus, a walk around the planter can also give the operator a chance to ensure the planter is operating normally.

Planter Levelness

An improperly leveled planter can inhibit the action of the row unit’s parallel-bar linkage, potentially leading to non-uniform seeding depth.

"The planter’s tongue and the row units’ parallel-bar linkages should be nearly level, or parallel, to the ground," Digman says. "Symptoms of an unlevel planter can include inconsistent seed spacing and depth. A severely unlevel planter may have difficulty closing the seed furrow."

Down Force

Many planters have springs or air bags in the parallel-bar linkage, which transfer weight from the planter’s frame to the row unit to help with disc opener, residue clearing or cutting coulter penetration and to minimize unit bounce in rough soil conditions, Digman says.

"Row unit down force should be adjusted when adding or removing row unit attachments, if there is a significant change in soil conditions like texture, moisture or tillage, or if the row units are bouncing when planting," he says. "Pay particular attention to row units that follow in tractor tire tracks as they may require additional down force."

Digman says too little down force can result in row-unit bounce and, subsequently, shallow seed placement. However, too much down force could accelerate wear on the row units’ ground-engaging components and could negatively affect early plant development.

Row Cleaners

Row cleaners, trash wheels or trash whippers must be adjusted to just touch the ground, Digman says. Row cleaners adjusted too high will not rotate and will leave residue in the path of the opener. Adjusted too low and they may move too much soil, which could affect seeding depth and cause the seed to be planted in cool, damp soil.

"Long residue can wrap around the row cleaners," Digman adds. "In this case, a lead coulter may be needed to cut the residue before it can be moved out of the way be the row cleaner."

Tire Pressure

On planters ground-driven by a pneumatic tire, tire pressure should be checked daily. Digman says these planters use the tire for ground driving the seed, fertilizer and chemical metering systems. Therefore, the tire needs to be properly inflated to ensure the same tire diameter used to create the rate charts in your operator’s manual.

"An under-inflated tire will reduce the gear reduction of the drive, leading to a higher seeding or fertilization rate as the tire makes more rotations for each acre of ground covered," Digman says. "The opposite is true for an overinflated tire."

Checking Seed Population

To check population, pick a couple of row units to monitor for a repeated measurement. Release the closing wheel down force and use a chain or strap to restrain the closing wheels so they don’t touch the ground, Digman says.

"Then plant long enough so that you have a chance to get the planter up to speed," Digman says. "This may require planting a little farther than desired, but it will ensure the observed population will be representative of the rest of the field."

Next, measure the length of the row that will represent one-thousandth of an acre. This will make calculating population easy. After you have measured the correct distance that corresponds to one-thousandth of an acre, count the number of seeds found in that distance.

To find your population, Digman says you simply multiply the number of seeds counted by 1,000. For example, if you are planting 30-inch rows and you count 32 seeds in 17 feet, 5 inches, then the seed population will be 32,000 seeds per acre.

"Because seeds can be difficult to see in the furrow, it's a good idea to do this test over a couple of rows to get a good idea of the actual seed population," Digman adds.


Planting distance needed to cover 1/1000th of an acre for each row. First measure the correct distance for your planter setup, then count the number of seeds in the furrow and multiply by 1000 to convert to seeds/acre.
Planting width (in)
34 ft 10 in
26 ft 1 in
17 ft 5 in
13 ft 10 in


* This number can also be used for twin rows planted on 30-inch centers.

Planting speed

Digman says manufacturers have worked to design planters to operate at higher speeds, but seed singulation and depth control still become more difficult at higher planting speeds.

"I’m not advocating slowing down, but if you’re not happy with the performance of your planter, slowing down a bit is an easy way to potentially improve planter performance," he says.