It's not just your corn planter that needs to be readied for planting. No-till drills require careful management and an annual winter maintenance check, too.

Peter Johnson, a cereals specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says no-till drills require management with more attention to detail than conventional tilling machinery, and the setup is critical. For example, wavy blades must be aligned correctly with the row unit, otherwise seeding will occur in the wrong spot.

At a recent clinic, Johnson had producers check out a Tye no-till drill which looked brand new with a fresh coat of paint, but had actually worked 1,220 acres. The equipment was showing the results of wear.

No-tillers quickly identified worn-out bearings, wear on the coulter blades, damage to coulter shanks and down-pressure springs, seized double-disc openers and wear on the harrier teeth. They were told to check the alignment of the coulters and tension of chains and watch out for damage to yokes and bushings.

Johnson stressed the importance of keeping the drill level, and of not planting around the corner. Instead, operators should "lift the unit, turn, back in and drop the unit" when they come to a sharp corner, Johnson says, adding "the ground may be so firm that if you leave it in the ground, it will bend the unit or the coulters."

Winter maintenance involves cleaning and oiling the entire unit at the end of the season; clearing out the grain from the grain box, which could attract mice; or removing soybeans, which could swell and damage equipment. Before the next season starts, the tubes should be cleared of cobwebs.

Johnson stressed the importance of planting early, when the soil is sufficiently dry. "Follow the 90-to-10 rule," he says. "If it's 90% dry, you can't afford to wait."

Proper winter maintenance can speed up the entire process of spring planting, by eliminating delays caused by machinery breakdown in the field.

"If you do winter maintenance properly, you rarely have to do it in season," Johnson says. "Every day delay causes a loss of 1 bushel per acre in yield with soybeans. With 50 acres, you lose 50 bushels per day. So be ready to go make it happen in the field."