ReachOut: Get To Know Your Planter

ReachOut: Get To Know Your Planter from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

In growing anticipation of the upcoming season, I’m going to spend a few weeks doting on planters.  Like I said last week, I love planters.  When taken proper care of, planters love you right back.  One in proper working condition will win you an invaluable head start on the season—a head start that you just can’t make up for, by hook or by crook, later on.

So over these next few weeks, follow along for an in depth tour of your planter from front to back.

Hitch and Toolbar: Always always always, your planter needs to run level.  The importance of keeping a six inch level in your toolbox can’t be overstated.  When toolbars aren’t level with the ground, bad things happen to good seeds: uneven placement, too shallow, that whole show.  On the same note, be cautious managing your hitch height to ensure that seeds are being sunk to the depth you think they are.

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Coulter: My general approach to equipment is that I don’t care what company you bought your coulters from, but rather, I do care very much that you buy the right type.  So whatever company you choose, don’t put a bubble or a vertical tillage coulter on your planter.  An 18 wave is your best bet because it is a good width, cleans easily, and lessens the risk of sidewall compaction compared to other coulters.

Whatever coulter you use though, it should only cut residue.  That’s it.  That’s all it does.  It’s not a plow or a disc.  If your coulter is affecting tillage upon your soil, you’d be well-served to reevaluate its size and the location of its mounting.  Lastly be sure your coulter depth is at least a half of an inch deeper than your furrow openers to make sure you maintain proper planting depth.

Trash Whips, Row Cleaners, and Other “Residue Managers”: If at the end of the season, your “residue manager” looks perfectly new, then you’ve perhaps done something very right.  Because if you’ve done a solid job of managing residue at all steps, your “residue manager” isn’t all that necessary.  Thus the quotes: “residue managers” ideally shouldn’t have to manage residue nearly at all.

That said, we all use them.  So go with a shark tooth design.  Besides looking mega cool, a shark tooth design is the most versatile of residue managers.  It moves residue easily, moves dirt when you really need it to, and is simple to clean.  Tined finger wheel designs tend to pin residue into the soil when it’s wet out, move dirt even when you don’t want or need them to, and are just plain messy all around.  Reversed disc designs, which are essentially plows bolted to the front of planters, are the worst of the lot.  They move everything indiscriminately: residue, dirt, rodents, small children.  You name it.

Physics: In the third grade, I was one day on the playground an unfortunate victim of physics: essentially, three kids bailed from the teeter totter and I ended up on my head.  It’s a lesson that I carry in my heart now: physics matter.

Header1So I’ll continue this tour of your planter next week, but what remains to be said today is this: whatever it is that you bolt to your planter, consider how it will affect the physics.  Planters are all about leverage and any equipment that you add to the planter will affect that leverage and thus how the planter interacts with the soil.  Equipment added carelessly or incorrectly could cause your planter to ride up or down, which means that a strip that looks bangarang immediately after planting could look like hell in six weeks time.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t add equipment, but rather that you need to be careful and smart as you add it to ensure that it doesn’t negatively affect the accuracy and efficiency of the planter itself.

Visit next week for Part II of your tour.  Our countdown to planting continues…