Fine-tuning Planter Performance


With today’s planter monitors, keeping tabs on planter performance is easier than ever before.  Though physically double-checking planter operation during the season can maximize performance, the following is a list of items to be checked. 


 Planter Levelness

An improperly-leveled planter can inhibit the action of the row unit’s parallel-bar linkage, potentially leading to non-uniform seeding depth. Check this while the planter is stopped and engaged in the soil. The planter’s tongue and the row units’ parallel-bar linkages should be nearly level (parallel) with the ground.  Symptoms of an unlevel planter can include inconsistent seed spacing and depth. A severely unlevel planter may also have difficulty closing the seed furrow.

Down force

Many planters have springs or air bags in the parallel-bar linkage.  These devices transfer weight from the planter’s frame to the row unit to help disk opener and residue clearing/cutting coulter (if equipped) penetrate the soil and minimize unit bounce in rough conditions. Row unit down force should be adjusted when adding or removing row unit attachments, if there is a significant change in soil conditions (texture, moisture, tillage) or if the row units are bouncing when planting. Pay particular attention to row units following tractor tire tracks as they may require additional down force. Too little down force can result in row unit bounce and, subsequently, shallow seed placement.  However, too much down force could accelerate wear on the row units’ ground-engaging components and could negatively affect early plant development.

Row cleaners (if equipped)

Row cleaners, trash wheels, or trash whippers are designed to sweep residue out of the path of the opener and, as such, must be adjusted to just touch the ground. Row cleaners adjusted too high will not rotate and will leave residue in the path of the opener. Adjusted too low and they may move too much soil which could affect seeding depth and cause the seed to be planted in cool, damp soil. Long residue can wrap around the row cleaners. In this case, a lead coulter may be needed to cut the residue before it can be moved out of the way by the row cleaner.

Tire Pressure

On planters ground-driven by pneumatic tires, tire pressure should be checked daily. The tires need to be properly inflated to ensure an accurate seeding rate. An under-inflated tire will reduce the gear reduction of the drive leading to a higher seeding rate. The opposite is true for an over-inflated tire.

Checking Seed Population

To check population, pick a couple of row units to monitor for a repeated measurement. Release the closing wheel down force and use a chain or strap to restrain the closing wheels so they do not touch the ground. Plant long enough so the planter is at operating speed and allows a distance to ensure the observed population will be representative of the rest of the field.

Next, measure the length of the row representing 1/1000th of an acre. Use the table below to determine how far to measure for a specific planter setup.   After measuring the correct distance corresponding to 1/1000th of an acre, count the number of seeds found in that distance.  To find your population, simply multiply the number of seeds counted by 1000.  For example, if planting 30-inch rows and 32 seeds are counted in 17 ft. 5 in., then the seed population will be 32,000 seeds per acre.  Since seeds can be difficult to see in the furrow, it is recommended to do this test over a couple of rows to get a good idea of the actual seed population.


Planting distance needed to cover 1/1000th of an acre for each row. First measure the correct distance for your planter setup, then count the number of seeds in the furrow and multiply by 1000 to convert to seeds/acre.

Planting width (in)



34 ft. 10 in.


26 ft. 1 in.


17 ft. 5 in.

* This number can also be used for twin-row planted on 30-inch centers.

Planting speed

The effect of planting speed on planter performance is well known. Manufacturers have worked to design planters to operate at higher speeds, but seed singulation and depth control still become more difficult at higher planting speeds.  Keep in mind, slowing down may improve planter performance.

Checking these items may be time consuming, but can ensure one’s planter is operating at its maximum performance.

Source: Kent Shannon, MU Ag Engineer