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How to Calibrate Wheat Planters


Drill calibration takes time but pays off in the form of an excellent stand.

We've all heard the saying, "Waste not, want not." When it comes to planting wheat, there is no better way to avoid waste than by calibrating your seed planters.

65% of your potential yield is established at planting. Some of the factors involved are seed selection, fertility, planting on time and drill calibration.

Calibration and subsequent testing ensure that you are planting the recommended amount of seed. Taking the time to calibrate your planter before the busy season begins is time well spent.

Seeding rates

The first step to calibration is determining the correct seeding rate. This is accomplished using small-grain production guides for your area. Remember that the recommendations in these guides are to be used when planting on time and with high-quality seed.

Production guides will provide the recommended seeds per acre, and have charts for you to convert to recommended seeds per pound .Seed size can vary by as much as 50% based on variety and /or lot. The seeds per pound information should be listed on your seed bag label along with typical germination rates.

With this information, you should then consult the chart on the drill box for the manufacturer's setting for the pounds per acre you need. This is a starting point for adjustment.

Drill calibration

The next step is to test the manufacturer's suggested setting to make sure you get your desired seeding rate.

One way to check is by testing the number of seeds in a linear row. First, pick a hard surface, like a driveway, or someplace where the seed won't be buried. Run the drill at the estimated setting. Operate it for several feet to make sure drill is engaged and account for margin of error. The drill should be set with no down pressure and the closing wheels lifted up. After running the drill for a short distance measure 3 feet, count the seeds dropped and divide by three to get your estimated seed per foot. If that rate is within the recommended seeding rate, you are ready to plant.

If you want to calibrate in your shop or don't have enough room for this type of test, there is another method you can use. First, measure the circumference of your planter tire. Experts at the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association recommend doing this by marking a spot on the tire, then turning it five complete revolutions (to reduce margin of error) before measuring the distance.

After you have the circumference of the wheel, you should write it down on the drill for future reference. To test the calibration this way, place a bucket under the seed drop, before physically turning the planter wheel five complete revolutions. Turning the wheel should cause seeds to flow, which are caught and then counted. Dividing the number of seeds by the measured distance (from turning wheel 5 revolutions) you can determine if the planter is calibrated correctly.

Please remember that if you change your variety of seed, or utilize a different seed treatment with the same variety, you will have to change your settings and re-calibrate. Also, if there you are using no-till, germination rates are low, or you are planting late, you may need to increase your seeding rate. For more information about calibration, please refer to your state's small-grain production guide.


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