Corn planter maintenance a key for crop success

Ray Mueller
FILE PHOTO - A pre-season plant checklist for corn planters helps planting success.

NEWTON - If the “As you sow, so shall you reap” proverb is correct, then, for corn growers, it applies to the performance of their corn planter and to its attachments for any no-till planting.

To address that point, Riesterer & Schnell Inc. equipment specialist Todd Vogel outlined a pre-season plant checklist at the 2020 annual meeting of the Manitowoc County Forage Council.

Start with the toolbar to make sure it is running level and parallel to the ground, Vogel advised. He said this test, which would ideally show that the parallel arms are horizontal to the ground at most times, can be conducted in the farmyard before entering a field.

Opener disk observations

For the opener disks, be sure to have the same number of washers under each pair, Vogel stated. To assure a consistent seed depth across the entire planter, adjust the T handle each row independently and spend a few minutes after planting has started to check if there is a consistent seed depth, he explained.

As an alternative to that block checking, put a spacer under each gauge wheel equal to the depth of the desired planting, Vogel proposed. To finish that task, adjust the T handle to have the opener blades barely touching the floor, he said.

For the dimension and alignment of the disk openers, slide business cards from the front and the back as far as they will go and measure the distance between the two, Vogel said. If it's less than two inches, it's time to shim or replace the disks, he indicated.

Farmers will be anxious to get corn planted after last year's challenges.

Check the rubber tires on the gauge wheels for any cracks or wear in order to make any repairs that assure adequate contact with the opener blade, Vogel continued. “The gauge wheels should not wobble or freely spin.”

Seed meter stability

Because of the role they play in controlling row bounce and subsequently, seed bounce, check if the bushings are tight, Vogel stated. “Stand behind the row unit and wiggle it up and down and back and forth.”

The seed meters need to be calibrated according to the seed type, Vogel indicated. In addition, the brushes and pads inside the meters ought to be replaced if they are worn, he noted.

Similarly, the seed tubes and their guards will wear to a point where they will no longer have adequate trench width, Vogel pointed out. He said this is especially important for any no-till planting.

By being used only about two weeks per year, the chains are vulnerable to rust, kinking, and loss of flexibility in addition to ordinary wear, Vogel noted. To prevent those problems, apply a chain appropriate lubricant, he said. “Be field ready.”

To avoid problems with the placement and covering of seeds, the closing wheel system will not be centered if the bushings are worn, Vogel pointed out.

Tillage method implications

Amid such differing tillage practices as conventional, minimum till, strip till, and no-till, corn planter adjustments are necessary, Vogel advised. In addition, attention must be given to the soil type along with the surface residues such as corn, soybeans, alfalfa, a cover crop, or a living or terminated previous crop, he noted.

Vogel offered five tips for better no-till planting and seed placement. They pertain to cutting and handling the residue, penetrating the soil to achieve the desired planting depth, assuring seed to soil contact, closure of the seed trench, and application of any fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, or fungicide.

There's no magical or overall answer on those points because each must be geared to the field conditions, Vogel remarked. What must be avoided is having any straw or other plant debris touching the seed in the soil because the escaping acidic juices will kill the sprout, he warned.

For cleaning the seed row, there are row cleaner options such as the floating, fixed or screw adjust, and air adjust versions, Vogel indicated. For tough conditions, he suggested a combination of a row cleaner and field cultivator.

Monitoring row unit downforce

Among the row unit downforce choices, the passive type needs to be watched closely because of the link between travel speed and desired seed depth, Vogel stressed. The active-air unit must also be fitted to the conditions while the active-hydraulic reacts more quickly, he added.

Attention to both the seed openers and gauge wheel is crucial to success in no-till planting, Vogel emphasized. Among the closing wheels, the many choices are depth bands, the paddle wheels and stitchers for which “there are lots of ads,” solid rubber, Martin spiked, and a pairing of the latter two for which “we're still on a learning curve,” he acknowledged.

The connection between any bouncing of the closing wheels and traveling speed must be monitored, Vogel advised. Another consideration with the closing wheels is the comparison of the spring operated and pneumatic downforce models, he pointed out.

Same travel direction

If the grower decides to crimp and flatten a cover crop rather than harvesting it, be sure to plant in the same direction as the heavy residue was rolled in order to avoid clogging of the row cleaner, Vogel stated. He identified the Dawn ZRX as a cover crop crimper that can prepare the way for no-till planting.

In general, any planter can be used for no-till but adjustments will be needed to obtain desired seed depth, Vogel remarked. The most recently introduced closing wheels are better suited for high speed planters at field speeds of 8 to 12 miles per hour compared to the normal speed of about 5 miles per hour but in all cases the best test is the consistency of seed depth and spacing, he said.

Beyond the specific points with the equipment, Vogel encourages a team approach to planting, especially with no-till. He said this should involve the equipment supplier, the farm agronomist, and the seed salesman.

Vogel can be reached by e-mail to or by phone to (920) 374-0604.