John Deere's no-till single-disc opener, such as those used on its 750, 1590, 1850, 1890 and other drills, is the most common drill opener on the market. 

Phil Needham of Needham Ag Technologies in Calhoun, Ky. offers the following five tips to fine-tune drill performance before seeding this spring.

1. Scrutinize Discs

Discs need “third-degree” scrutiny, Needham says. John Deere manufactures discs at 18 inches in diameter, but as the edges dull or wear below 17 inches, discs need to be replaced.

Install new disc blades with the beveled edge pointing toward the seed tube. It’s important that discs penetrate the soil uniformly and cut residue properly, he says. They must be sharp and in good condition.

2. Watch Main Pivot Pin Wear 

As acres accumulate on John Deere openers, the hardened steel pins — and the copper bushings that surround the pins — wear. The result is the disc opener runs at less than a 7-degree angle, often 5 to 6 degrees, Needham says.

“This lower angle causes a narrower seed slot, which is too narrow for the seed boot to fit into,” Needham says. “As units wear and the angle is reduced, it holds seed boots out of the ground, resulting in excessive seed boot wear, poor soil penetration and inconsistent depth control, especially across varying soil types or moisture.”

3. Check Seed Boots For Wear 

Once the lower rear corner of seed boots begin to wear upward, excessive amounts of seed may escape out of the seed slot, and that’s not a good thing to happen with soybean seed prices up substantially.

Inspect the condition of the plastic seed tab, especially on air seeders, to stop seeds from being blown out of the seed slot. Finally, check the vertical play within the seed boot.

“If you grab the seed boot and it moves up and down a half inch or more when measured from the bottom, it can result in inconsistent seeding depth or too many seeds on the ground,” Needham says.

Wear in the boot mounting holes within the cast arm, plus wear on the mounting bolt and boot, are all causes of excess play, Needham adds.

“Most no-tillers I visit say there is no play in their seed boots. But when we lift up the boots, they have 1 to 2 inches of play, which is a major cause of too many seeds left on top of the ground,” he says.

After-market bushing kits are available to eliminate this problem.

4. Examine Firming And Closing Wheel Arms 

It’s important to check if the rear closing wheel arms have excessive play.

“If the arm can move more than a half inch in either direction when measured at the rear of the arm, then the bushings around the bolt likely need replacing,” Needham says. “I don’t worry too much about excess play in the firming wheel arm, because the wheel will still find its way down into the seed slot, even with a worn arm assembly.

“Some prefer a little play in this arm because it helps keep the firming wheel down in the seed slot, even when making a gradual turn.”

Newer seed firming wheels are narrow and tapered to help them fit down into the seed slot and press the seeds into the slot’s base.

“Try not to turn these drills or air seeders in the ground anymore than you have to because it creates a huge amount of strain and increased wear, especially on the outer units,” Needham says.

5. Use Enough Ballast

Most farmers using single-disc seeders don’t have enough ballast on the drill or air seeder, which is critical when seeding into heavy residue or hard soils.

You can add a standard weight bracket on the frame’s rear — however, that bracket may need to be extended to hold additional weights — or you can add more weight brackets and weights, Needham says.

These add-ons need to be positioned to ensure consistent down-pressure across all of the front and rear openers.

Check this by measuring the amount of push-rod extension within the spring assembly.

The goal is to make sure all discs effectively cut through residue.

“The greatest challenge is when seeding into tough, heavy residue, harder soils or both. This is where sharp disc blades are essential to prevent hairpinning,” Needham says.

For example, a new 15-foot-wide John Deere 1590 drill with 7.5-inch row spacing weighs around 8,400 pounds. That sounds like a lot, he says, but he doesn’t think it is when spaced across 24 openers. That leaves an average of 350 pounds per opener.

“Based on my experience, it takes between 400 and 450 pounds per opener to penetrate hard soils with heavy residue,” Needham says. “I suggest adding between 1,200 and 2,400 pounds of weight to a 15-foot-wide drill with 7.5-inch opener spacings to achieve the desired results.

“Some no-tillers will use seed as ballast. But unless you’re willing to refill the drill when it’s half empty, which is not very productive, I prefer not to use seed weight for ballast.”