Maintaining proper bar height is also important, he adds. “I want to see 20 to 22 inches between the bottom of your 5-by-7 or 7-by-7 bar when that planter is in the ground. That maintains your parallel bars at a level position and keeps your down-force where it needs to be in an operating zone. It also keeps everything else level.”

If you’re shopping for a used planter, and you walk up behind the row unit and grab hold of it, you should not be able to shake it, pick it up and down, or move it side to side, says Lehmkuhl.

“That might mean it’s time to replace the bolts and bushings. If you waited too long, you might as well go see your equipment dealer and start replacing your parallel bars, or start drilling them out and putting in oversized bushings and full-shoulder bolts.”

Find the center-point of your row, measure out for so many inches, and then measure back to a known point on that row unit, he recommends. Then, make sure those row units are very straight.

People weren’t paying much attention to down-force until the advent of precision planting, he says.  Now, growers can know about the down-force on the planter.

“Down-force matters because it’s important in maintaining consistent depth. In addition to that, it’s important in root development. If you plant seed, and the crown roots come out, we’re most concerned with that No. 3 crown root.

“If it doesn’t get out and go deep, you’re in a world of hurt. That’s your pipeline. If you cut it off, you’re hurting your yields. At V4 to V6, you’re determining the number of rows around the ear. We have depth issues when there’s too little down-force.”

Too little down-force, says Lehmkuhl, can affect plant height. “You’ve got a lot of downward forces on the planter — springs and air bags that can do just about anything.

“You’ve also got the upward forces on your planter working against you, and you’ve got speed, row-unit attachments, and the action of trying to get that planter into the ground.”

Growers should consider whether or not their depth settings are equal across the entire planter, that the closing system springs are set the same, and that no-till coulters are set the same, he says. “We’ve got springs and air bags that can do just about anything. If stalks are uniform, we can pretty much tell that everything emerged on time, and that it was planted at a uniform depth.”

Excessive down-force also can result in poorly closing a seed slot above the seed, he says.

“One of the easiest things you can do when you’re out in the field and the planter is in the ground is to go back and grab your gauge wheel. If it spins easily, then you probably need to go ahead and increase down-pressure. But if you can’t make the gauge wheel spin the dirt with all of your strength then there’s probably too much down-pressure.

“If you can barely make it spin in the dirt with one arm, that’s just right. Conditions will change with differing soil types.”

If there’s a central-fill planter in your future, Lehmkuhl advises caution from the standpoint of weight management.

“It’s a wonderful tool, and I know why it’s there, but you don’t need to overload it if you’re planting in marginal conditions. Many growers in the South carry seed alone with no liquid fertilizers, but you need to be aware of what that’s doing to you.”

You don’t need a poly insert on your gauge wheel to keep it from filling with mud, he says.

“You need to make sure the gauge wheels are running very tight up against your seed-opening disks. Grab your gauge wheel and put it in the ‘plant’ position, and then make sure it’s running very tight against the seed-disk openers.

“If you’re planting in dry conditions, the opposite can happen. You’ll have a trail of dirt going down into your seed trench, and you’ll be planting in dry dirt.

“There are different types of gauge wheels on the various planters.”

When seed-opening disks get down to 14.5 inches at the beginning of the season, he says, those blades need to be replaced. New ones are 15 inches.

“You do not want a gap in your seed-disk openers because it will create seed-depth issues. If you’re running standard seed-disk openers, you should have 2 to 2.5 inches of blade contact.