Is Your Planter Ready for Spring?

Avoid Downtime With Pre-Season Planter and Technology Tune-Up

Matt Wilde
By  Matthew Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
A John Deere 1790 planter owned by Jeff Jorgenson sits in the Sidney, Iowa, farmer's shop for its annual pre-season tune-up. Jorgenson is also installing new equipment on the planter, such as electric drives on row units, to make it more efficient. (DTN Photo Courtesy of Jeff Jorgenson.)

ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) -- Worn hydraulic hoses, gears and other parts and tools littered Jeff Jorgenson's shop floor last week as he readied his soybean planter for spring.

It will take Jorgenson several weeks to perform a thorough pre-season check of the planter and install new equipment. This year he's adding Precision Planting vDrive, an electric drive system, and new Yetter spiked closing wheels to each row unit. Parts will be greased and replaced as needed. When that job is done, the corn planter will take its place in the shop.

As Jorgenson wrenches at home, the local implement dealer updates software in two John Deere StarFire 3000 GPS receivers that will help guide and steer his planter tractors. Annual preventative maintenance and technology updates are a must to ensure equipment is in tip-top shape to perform, according to Jorgenson.

"It's critical to make sure that when you can get in the field, equipment is ready to go," Jorgenson said. "We know planting windows can be tight, so we can't afford downtime due to equipment failure.

"It's one of those years with healthy market prices that farmers will do everything they can to get seed in early and right to maximize yields and profit potential," Jorgenson continued. "There's no question farmers will pay more attention to maintenance this spring."

At a recent Precision Planting conference, the AGCO subsidiary reported poorly equipped and maintained planters can cost farmers yields and money. For example, poor singulation while planting corn can cause skips, doubles and uneven emergence.

Precision Planting research indicates a 2.1 bushel-per-acre yield loss for every 1% drop in corn seed singulation. A corn plant that is one leaf collar behind its neighbor will yield 50% less, the company said.

Here's tips from Iowa State University (ISU) equipment specialists and equipment manufacturers to help keep tractors and planters in the field and in optimum condition for the upcoming planting season.


ISU and John Deere encourage farmers to make sure all displays and GPS receivers are activated and software is up to date.

Some satellite and differential correction services expired at the beginning of 2021, making some older GPS receivers obsolete. This is due to U.S. government GPS satellite and signal upgrades. Some receivers may need software updates.

For example, the John Deere iTC GPS receiver that came out in 2004 can no longer receive SF1 and SF2 correction signals so AutoTrac automatic steering won't work using the receiver. AutoTrac will only work with more accurate RTK GPS signals, according to John Deere, which receivers such as the StarFire 3000 and StarFire 6000 utilize.

"Sometimes software updates or equipment design changes are in response to changes in, or the availability of, government-provided satellite signals that make them no longer able to provide the level of accuracy required for precision ag applications," John Deere said in a statement to DTN.

The company also stated GPS guidance technology plays an important role on today's farms. John Deere encourages farmers to make inspections of guidance systems part of their pre-season maintenance routine. John Deere recommends farmers consult with their local dealer for assistance.

Ryan Bergman, an ISU program specialist in ag and biosystems engineering, said auto steer didn't work recently in a John Deere tractor on the university's research farm because its StarFire 6000 GPS receiver needed a software update. Bergman updated the software himself after calling the local dealer.

"In general, it's a good practice with any technology to check for updates and consult with your provider," Bergman said.


ISU recommends farmers check for excessive sway in the tractor's drawbar or three-point hitch as metal wear can develop over time.

If there is excessive play in the drawbar, new bushings to go over the swing pins could be needed to keep the drawbar centered. Make sure the three-point arms are snug to the frame, but still able to move up and down. When adjusting the sway blocks, adjust each side equally so the quick hitch remains centered left to right. Shims may be needed.


Once in the field, set the planter in the ground and pull it forward a short distance to be sure the row units are fully engaged in the ground, according to ISU. Measure the distance from the bottom of the frame to the ground. This should be 20 to 21 inches on most planters. Adjustments may be needed to the frame lift wheel linkages if tires, tire pressures or tacks are changed.

Changes in tire technology over the last 10 years have allowed growers to operate at lower tire pressures to reduce soil compaction. Check manufacturer specifications for specific tires to get the correct pressure for the weight of the planter and the speed it travels.

With the planter in the ground, check planter levelness by measuring the distance from the bottom of the tongue to the ground. Do it at both the front and rear of the tongue. If the planter is pitched too far forward or backward, that could limit the range of motion of the parallel arms or cause problems with the row cleaners and closing systems.


"To avoid breakdowns and downtime, look for things that could cause a catastrophic failure like hydraulic lines and vacuum equipment," Bergman said. "There's nothing worse than when it's go-time, you're out running around trying to find a hose."

Check all hydraulic lines for wear, cracking or rubbing. Pay close attention to high flex points such as fold joints and wing pivots where lines may get pinched or stretched.

Remove the vacuum cover and check for small missing pieces or cracking in the impeller vanes, which can cause issues with creating enough vacuum pressure at meters. Check vacuum seals for cracking. And, remember to remove all frame plugs before heading to the field.


Here are nine components ISU recommends farmers check for wear and accuracy:

-- Row unit spacing: Use a measuring tape to ensure all row units are properly spaced. A small offset can lead to big problems during field operations and harvest.

-- Double disk openers: Ensure openers are sharp and within the diameter tolerance specified by the manufacturer, which is usually 1.75 to 2 inches.

-- Gauge wheels: Ensure proper contact between the gauge wheels and disk openers, but make sure gauge wheels can still be turned by hand with slight pressure.

-- Meters and seed plates: Inspect the vacuum seals and brushes on the meters. Check that the correct seed disks, knockouts and double eliminators are installed for the crop being planted.

-- Finger pickups: Inspect the meters to ensure that the fingers spin freely and that all finders open and close properly.

-- Seed placement system: Clean seed tube sensors and check the condition of the seed drop tube. For high-speed equipment, check the condition of seed belts and brushes.

-- Row cleaners: Check bearings and linkages for signs of wear. On pneumatic systems, check for leaks in the airbags and airlines.

-- Row unit downforce: Check for leaks in air lines or hydraulic hoses, as well as airbags and cylinders. Be sure all gauge wheel load sensors are working and reading properly.

-- Closing system: Inspect the bearings in the wheels. Check the alignment of the closing wheels by setting the planter down on concrete and pulling it forward 4 to 5 feet. Make sure the closing system wheels are centered over the line that is created on the concrete by the double disk openers.

"You have to get the crop off right, which starts with planter maintenance," Jorgenson said.

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Matt Wilde