Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Peak Performance Planting

Georgia Cotton Experts Offer Tips To Optimize Planter Efficiency


Editor’s Note: To achieve a healthy stand of cotton, it’s important to properly prepare your planter. Drs. Wes Porter and Simer Virk, precision ag specialists and members of the University of Georgia Cotton Team, advise closely checking your equipment and performing any required maintenance to ensure it is ready for planting cotton.

While some planters may have already been used to plant corn, it’s important to note some significant changes in planter settings are required to ensure accurate metering and seed placement for cotton. Planter malfunctions in the field or mistakes at planting are common and can become costly, especially with the high seed prices. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the planters are dialed in for peak performance in the field.

12-Point Checklist To Ensure Your Planter  Is Dialed In For Peak Performance   ☑	Parallel Linkages – Stand behind the row unit and wiggle it up and down and left and right to check for any play in the parallel arms and adjust or replace linkages and bushings to make sure row units are secured nice and tight on the planter. ☑	Drive System – Check all chains, idlers, sprockets and bushings, and replace any parts that are too worn. Make sure all drive chains are snug and do not have any unnecessary jump or vibration when operating. Lubricate all chains and sprockets before begin planting and regularly in the season. Additionally, check all drive system parts including flex drives, hydraulic drives and lines, and electrical drive systems including connectors and wires.   ☑	Tire Pressure – Check and maintain proper air pressure in the tires as recommended by the manufacturer based on the weight of the planter and planting conditions in the field.  Independent of drive system, improper tire pressure can have negative effects on seed placement due to improper levelling of the planter toolbar.      ☑	Double Disc Openers – Check that the double disc openers are still sharp and within the diameter tolerance outlined by the manufacturer. Replace if they are dull or worn more than half an inch of their original diameter. Perform a quick check using a business card to ensure adequate contact (1.75 to 2 inches) between the disc openers at the 4 o’clock position.    ☑	Gauge Wheels – Inspect the gauge wheels for any cracks or wear. Adjust the gauge wheels so that they run tight against the disc openers but just enough so they can easily be turned by hand with slight pressure. Gauge wheels should also move freely up and down without sticking in any position. ☑	Row Cleaners – Check row cleaners for any wear and replace any bearings if they are not turning freely. Floating type row cleaners should also travel up and down to effectively clear soil/crop residue out of the way.  ☑	Seed Meters – Inspect each seed meter thoroughly for any wear or damaged parts including vacuum seals, brushes, scrapers and doubles eliminator. Ensure that the correct crop kit (for newer meters) is installed in the meter. If not utilizing a seed monitor (capable of by-row feedback) during planting, it is also recommended to run the seed meters on a test stand to check performance and make any necessary adjustments.   ☑	Seed Tube – Check seed tubes for any cracks and wear at the bottom. Seed tubes should also be cleaned properly to clear any debris or obstructions (seed, cobweb, etc.). Make sure that the seed sensor is secured properly to the tube and working as intended. ☑	Closing Wheels – Check that closing wheels are centered directly over the center of the row. Inspect closing wheels for any wear or play in the arms and replace parts or adjust as needed.   ☑	Vacuum – Inspect the whole vacuum system including hydraulic motor, fan and hoses for any wear, leaks or loose fittings. Check that vacuum hoses are attached properly to the manifold and to the seed meters on each row unit.  ☑	Downforce – For mechanical (spring type) systems, check all the components thoroughly and make sure different downforce adjustments can be made easily. For pneumatic or hydraulic systems, inspect all air or hydraulic connections carefully and perform a static diagnostic test to verify that the downforce system is functioning properly. This includes the compressor for air systems, in some cases it stays in the cab and can be neglected.   ☑	Technology – Check that the GPS receiver and planter display have the most recent firmware upgrades installed and are functioning properly. Check if the GPS correction subscription services and any other display unlocks for advanced planting features are activated and paid for the rest of the season. Perform a thorough inspection of all technology components including sensors, harnesses, ECUs and connections to ensure everything is connected and functioning properly. Also, make sure to back up planting data from the previous season on a computer or an external storage device before recording this year’s data. — Dr. Simer Virk

Take the time to check planted seed depth for each row-unit and make necessary adjustments accordingly.
Check carefully for both good seed placement and seed-to-soil contact for timely and uniform emergence.
Achieving strong emergence and establishing a healthy stand starts with utilizing proper planting techniques.

A planter checklist is available at for growers to use and thoroughly go over different planter components to check if any parts need replacement or adjustment to get it field ready. Once out in the field, it is important that the operator gets out of the tractor during the first few passes and checks seed depth and spacing across all rows behind the planter. This is also the best time to check if the planter is set up and functioning properly for the given field conditions such as soil moisture, residue, etc. Here are a few other key points to consider related to planter setup and performing in-field checks when planting cotton:

Seed Depth

The recommended seed depth for planting cotton is 0.5 to 1 inches. If the same planter has been used for planting corn, it is most likely set closer to 1.5 to 2 inches deep. Verify seed depth before planting on both a hard surface and in the field. Mechanical seed depth settings (T-bar handle adjustments) can vary among the row-units on the same planter so take the time to check planted seed depth for each row unit and make necessary adjustments accordingly. This is very important especially when planting cotton at shallower depths (<0.5 inch) as even a small deviation from target- depth setting on some row units can result in seeds being placed on top of the ground instead of in the soil and with proper seed-to-soil contact.


Proper planter downforce is important to achieve target- seeding depth to make sure the downforce system (whether utilizing mechanical, pneumatic or an active hydraulic system) is set to apply adequate downforce on each row unit. For planting cotton, the required downforce could range anywhere from none (just the weight of the row-unit itself) up to 200 lbf depending on the soil type, moisture and field conditions at planting. Lighter sandy soils and conventional-tillage systems will require considerably less downforce than heavy loamy soils and conservation-tillage systems (strip-till or no-till.) Remember, it is common to have variable conditions within the same field, so make sure to adjust settings accordingly as field conditions change within the same field or when moving from one field to another.

Seeding Rate

The recommended seeding rate for cotton is at least 2 seeds per row-foot to attain a plant population of 1.5 to 1.75 plants per row-foot (again here the seed plate and plant population for corn are drastically different so adjust the population accordingly for cotton). For growers planting less than 2 seeds per row-foot, it is critical to avoid any seed metering and placement issues as it may result in inadequate seed establishment with a potential for seed loss. For growers who are not using a seed monitor during planting, it is highly recommended to check all seed meters on a test stand before planting to verify meter performance, especially singulation. Growers should check the availability of seed meter test stand with their nearest dealership as most equipment dealers have these available today and offer seed meter testing as a service. Seed meter testing is important as any unnecessary skips or multiples during planting will result in poor or uneven stand establishment that can further impact yield if the stand is reduced significantly. Cotton seed being smaller than corn and peanut seed is also very sensitive to vacuum pressure. Make sure to adjust the vacuum appropriately to avoid skips and multiples.

Seed Placement and Seed-to-Soil Contact

Proper setup and functioning of row-cleaners (when planting in conservation systems), double disc openers, gauge-wheels and closing wheels for prevalent field conditions is critical for attaining adequate seed placement and proper seed-to-soil contact. Make sure that the double-disc openers are creating a true V-shape furrow, gauge wheels are running tightly (but not rubbing excessively) against the opening discs, and closing wheels are aligned perfectly behind the planter and set to apply adequate pressure to properly close the furrow. Check for any signs of improper furrow formation when doing field checks behind the planter and make necessary adjustments. It is important to have both good seed placement and seed-to-soil contact for timely and uniform emergence.

Planting Technology

Several planting technologies are available today on modern cotton planters to improve seeding performance. Perform a thorough and timely inspection (at least a week or more) before planting to check status and functioning of all technology components including GPS, seed monitor, wiring harnesses, seed tube sensors, rate control module, electric seed meters and active downforce system (if available) as well as for any subscription or latest firmware updates for the GPS and the in-cab display. Back up your planting data from the previous year before you begin planting this year and make sure the seeding prescriptions are ready to go if using any variable-rate seeding in your operation this year. Issues with planting technology in the middle of the planting season can cost significant time and money so make sure to address any issues before heading out to the field.

Variability During Planting

As mentioned above, both variable field and environmental conditions are unavoidable during planting. It is critical that growers evaluate their planting conditions day to day, field by field and especially if there are significant weather events (such as temperature changes or rainfall) during the planting window. These are common and will require adjustments to planter settings based on the existing in-field conditions, with special consideration to variability in soil texture, moisture and/or crop residue. Most growers usually plant two to three varieties on their farm. Any change in cotton varieties, specifically in seed size would also require adjustments to seed meter settings and vacuum to ensure good seed singulation with minimal skips or doubles.

Remember, you only get one chance to place the seed and close that furrow properly so consistent and regular checks during planting are important to ensure that the planter is operating at peak performance in each field and throughout the whole planting window.


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