Preparing for Fall

Is Your Equipment in Tip Top Shape

The wheat is off, straw baled, soil sampling done, manure spread – the list of summer activities goes on. There are always jobs to do throughout the summer months. Not that anyone intentionally looks for more work but why not pull the drill out of the shed and start going over it, fall is quickly approaching. When the beans are ready to harvest the drills are ready to go as the optimum planting window when conditions are fit can be challenging some years.

Before we start going over drills, the greatest residue management tool for any grower no-tilling wheat is a properly performing combine. The choppers and knives need to be in good shape to be capable of sizing residue properly. There is a fine line between residue being too short or too long. Finely chopped residue will not spread very far whereas large residue will spread far but it will not be evenly distributed. Either situation will result in issues no-tilling wheat. Dull knives also take more power to size residue thus decreasing overall combine performance. Another issue many people run into is not being able to spread residue the entire width of the header. It is simple, if you cannot spread the entire width of your cutting platform you either need to upgrade your residue spreading system or you need a smaller header. Uneven residue distribution causes differences in soil moisture resulting in uneven emergence. Uneven emergence can lead to greater risk of fusarium head blight because the wheat flowering period will not be the same during the critical spray window.

Even Residue Distribution
Uneven Residue Distribution

Whether you have a conventional drill with a coulter cart or an air seeder capable of 1200 pounds down pressure, similar principles apply. Proper plant establishment stems from having a well tuned, properly performing drill (assuming residue is spread evenly). The best wheat crops start with uniform seeding depth, distribution and rate.

Disc Openers

Does everyone know when to replace their disc blade? According to Phil Needham, disc blades need to be replaced when they measure at 1” less than new blades or have become rounded and dull, whichever comes first. For example, if new blades are 18” and your blades measure 17.5” but they are rounded and dull, replace them! A rounded and dull blade will not properly cut residue and maintain an adequate seed depth. A dull blade will take more force to stay in the ground than a sharp blade. The seed boots, especially on John Deere drills is another important wear component that should be looked at. According to Phil Needham, if the rear corner of the boot is worn badly enough, seeds will tend to escape the seed trench, especially with air seeders, seeds can blow out of the trench.

Drill Ballasting

When planting into heavy residue or hard soils, additional weight may be needed to successfully no-till. When a box drill is full, the weight of seed acts as the ballast. When the seed gets low in the bin there is not as much weight to keep the row units at proper depth. If you find the drill frame wheels are lifting off the ground or you can “free spin” the row unit gauge wheels then additional weight should be added (assuming the disc blades are in good shape). CCS air seeders are the worst for weight distribution. When full, the tank in the middle is a tremendous amount of weight on the center of the machine with nothing but the weight of the frame holding the wings down. Often weight needs to be added to the wings to counteract the weight difference on the middle of the drill. TBT or TBH air seeders are the best for ballasting. Once the proper amount of weight is added to the drill frame it stays constant because the weight of the seed and fertilizer is in the cart, not on the toolbar.


How often do you check that the drill is putting out the rate that you have it set for? When targeting a specific seeding rate i.e. 1.6 Million seeds per acre with a variety that is 13,500 seeds per pound, where is your drill set at? Is it set for 150lbs or 2.5bu because that’s what always gets planted or is it set at 118.5lbs/ac? When set for 118.5lbs/ac how do you verify that it is in fact sowing 118.5lbs? As noted by Phil Needham, “the drill setting chart is often 10-30% off, especially with treated seed, because treated seed will flow 10-25% slower than untreated seed”. Scale kits work excellent and a great tool for fine tuning seeding rates but can be costly depending on the make and model of your drill. If a scale is not an option, there are a couple methods for checking seeding rates.

The following document created by Phil Needham walks through a drill calibration procedure.  The chart it based on Needham’s home area of Kentucky, but still worth while to view.

Click the link below!

Needham Drill Calibration Chart

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