SOMETHING AS simple as calibrating your planter this winter may affect your bottom line in 2001 — as much as the introduction of hybrid seed corn did in 1926.

“Once trained professionals make adjustments, a planter meter is ready for the season. You can make the most of your seed investment through optimum seed spacing. Knowing you've done the best planting job possible relieves a lot of anxiety. In the end, you can see ‘picket fence stands’ when the corn begins to grow.”

Research results recently released by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, show an average yield increase of four bushels per acre when finger-pickup-style planters are properly repaired and calibrated. This type of meter is typically found in John Deere, Kinze and White planters.

“Our research shows for an investment of approximately 85 cents per acre, growers received an average of $8 per acre in increased yield as a result of properly calibrating their planters,” says Tom Doerge, Ph.D., agronomy research manager for Pioneer in Johnston, Iowa.

Estimates are based on $2 per bushel corn prices and planting average of 600 acres. “An increase of just one-half bushel per acre is needed to make the calibration service pay for itself, yet the producers who participated in the study, on average, saw a four-bushel-per-acre yield advantage.

“Eighty producers cooperated with Pioneer to conduct nearly 100 on-farm, split-planter comparisons in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. In the split-planter studies, planter meters on one-half of the machines were properly repaired and calibrated for the seed size being planted while the other meters were left alone.

Yields were compared across the field to determine the difference between calibrated and un-calibrated meters. Results ranged from an increase of 23 bushels per acre to no improvement and varied in relation to the condition of the individual planter.

Pioneer agronomists estimate that yield losses due to non-uniformity of planting spacing often range between three and five bushels per acre for modern planters and may exceed 10 bushels per acre with poorly maintained, maladjusted or older planters.

If a planter is not properly calibrated, conditions such as high planting speeds, very small seed or a rough seedbed sometimes found in no-till can magnify stand variability problems.

“Yield gains are more dramatic when planter meters are very worn or are in poor repair, but one cannot assume that meters on a new planter unit are functioning properly,” adds Doerge.

“Sometimes belts on new units are warped or they are in backwards. Although such cases are the exception rather than the rule, it's a good idea to check all planter units to maximize yield potential.”

The primary goal of the split-planter research project was to better understand the effect of MeterMax System planter adjustment on plant spacing uniformity and yields, says Doerge.

The MeterMax System, which was developed by Precision Planting of Tremont, Ill., performs meter inspection and performance evaluation, reconditioning and precision calibration.

The real benefit of this system is that meters can be set to specific seed size so growers can visually see skips and doubles on pre-calibrated planters without having to plant their fields, adds Whitaker.

“Once trained professionals make adjustments, a planter meter is ready for the season,” Whitaker says. “You can make the most of your seed investment through optimum seed spacing. Knowing you've done the best planting job possible relieves a lot of anxiety. In the end, you can see ‘picket fence stands’ when the corn begins to grow.”