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How to Calibrate a Planter for Forage Seed

How to Calibrate a Planter for Forage Seed
Tips to maximize your investment at planting time

Compared with other crops, the size of forage seed and nature of forage farming makes the planting of these small grains unique. When calibrating a planter for forage seed, growers can improve results by remembering a few simple steps. Southern States has put together some expert advice on making the forage planting process go smoothly.

Importance of calibration

Research has shown that properly laying down seed for forage leads to lower costs and higher yields. Seeding at too low of a rate results in thin stands, more weeds and, ultimately, lower yields. Too much seed, however, does not necessarily mean a better crop; instead, the yield remains around the same, but significantly increases costs due to the expense of using additional seed that doesn't come with a payoff.

Although planters come with charts for calibration, many factors can alter the machine's actual seeding rates. Field conditions, wear on the machine and type of seed coating are just a few influences that can increase or decrease rates. As a result, actually testing the planter and measuring seed rates has proven to be a far superior method of calibrating.

First things first

Grain grown for forage can be quite diverse. Varieties vary in size, coating and shape. Before starting the calibration process for the planter, make sure to clean out every nook, cranny and tubing where old grain could have gotten stuck. Focus especially on drop tubes or feed cups, as small grains can become trapped there for some time. Experts advise using compressed air to rid the tubes of any leftover grain or other debris.

Calibration methods

Once you've properly cleaned your planter, choose one of these methods to ensure you're putting out seed at the correct rate.

  • Collection: The collection method of calibration involves literally collecting the seeds that the planter puts down to ensure the amount is adequate. To accomplish this, simply remove seed tubes from the grain drill and attach a plastic bag with a rubber band held around the hose. This method catches the seed so that a grower can see and count the grains the machine is planting.
  • Difference: The difference calibration method involves adding a specific known amount of seed in the seeder then driving a known distance in the field. The remaining seed is weighed to determine how much the planter has planted.
  • Run Out: The run out method of calibration works best for larger areas, as it is the least precise. It involves putting a certain amount of seed in the seeder then traveling over the field until the seed has run out. A note of caution: This method assumes a uniform distribution of seed over the crop rows as well as a steady, uninterrupted flow of seed.

Making sure your forage seed planter is calibrated will help save valuable time and money by ensuring the seeds you think are going into the ground are actually being planted. For more information on calibrating your forage seed planter, please consult your local Southern States Agronomy Professional or Extension office.

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