The 2011 planting season will be historic because of the record, or near record low stocks of soybeans, wheat and corn and a planned increase of something close to two million acres of cotton.

What crops growers will plant is still a mystery for most, but it is clear when they plant, they will need to be timely and they will need to take care of the seed they put in the ground from the time they are planted.

An often over-looked component of getting crops planted, up and growing in a precise window of time, is maintenance of spraying and planting equipment. Time will truly be money, often lots of money, when planting gets going in the spring. No time is a good time for equipment problems, but this spring definitely won’t be good.

Keeping sprayers operational and efficient in the spring planting season is often a reflection of how they are maintained. Investing some time during pre-plant weather can pay big dividends when temperatures warm up and seed go in the ground.

Some tips for keeping planters ready for spring include:

• Coulter care:The first thing to look at on the planter is to be sure the coulters are sharp enough to cut through the soil residue. Make sure the coulters and disks are in-line accurately, otherwise seed placement may be off.

• Disc openers: Worn disc openers and worn rubber seals should be replaced to avoid altering seed populations. Again, the price of seed will be high, so getting seed in the right position and at the right depth is critical. Disc openers should be adjusted together by removing spacers behind the hubs to obtain 1 to 3 inches of disc contact. Most new planter disc openers are 15 inches in diameter with a 0.5-inch bevel. When they wear to less than 14 inches in diameter, they should be replaced.

• Gauge wheel pivots: make sure gauge-wheel pivots are not worn to the point they flex away from disc openers. As gauge-wheel pivots wear, they pull away from the disc openers, which need to make a consistent “V.” Worn pivots will mess with your seed trenches.

• Level planter: Changing tires on the tractor or pulling the planter with a different tractor from the prior year can change the levelness of the planter. Even simple things, like changing the air pressure in tires can affect the level of the planter.

Proper calibration a must

Maintenance can be a critical factor in getting seed in the right place at the right time, but all the maintenance in the world won’t overcome poor calibration of the planter. For pneumatic planters (air or vacuum), calculate the seed weight for each seed by dividing the number of seeds per bag by the weight of the bag. For example, an 80,000 seed bag divided by 50 pounds equals 1,600 seeds per pound.

From the operator’s manual, identify the correct pressure (air or vacuum) seeding rates under as close to field conditions as possible, for the calculated seed weight. Identify the correct seed disc (or drum) for the calculated seed weight.

From the planter’s operator’s manual, identify the correct transmission setting for your desired seeding rate and calibrate actual seed drop with the planter transmission settings and the planter monitor readouts.

Calibrate actual seed drop with the planter transmission settings and the planter monitor readouts. Do the calibration at normal planting speeds.

With a big increase in cotton acreage, growers in the Southeast will want to take special care to prevent early season weed competition and pest damage. Likewise, equally valuable grain crops and peanuts will need early-season protection.

Keeping sprayers in operating condition will be critical to meeting the early season demands as spraying and planting become intertwined in the early part of the growing season.

Some tips for keeping sprayer equipment in top operating conditions are:

• Typical adjusting and cleaning of tips, filters, lines and tank.

• Checking all fluids and levels. Consider replacing all of your tips at the beginning of the season, generally the cost is minimal and you might as well get off to a good start.

• Adjusting for flow rate (some monitors may have calibration wizards to help with this task).

• If the sprayer is coming out of winter make sure you clean the tank, you don’t want your winterization liquids to contaminate your first spray load.

• Check ALL the nozzles on your sprayer. It takes time, but will pay off when you get going full speed later this spring. any nozzles that are five percent above or below the average output of the sprayer should be replaced.

A simple thing like a nozzle cleaning brush can save growers a lot of frustration when the season starts. The toothbrush-like brushes sell for a few dollars and they do a better job than a pocket knife.

While checking off the potential trouble spots on a sprayer used to be simple, now that so many growers are going with GPS guided equipment and high tech monitors, sometimes checking the new systems isn’t so simple.

If you haven’t already done so, make a backup copy of the as-applied data on your monitor. This can be as simple as copying the information to a desktop or laptop.”

It’s a good idea to check the amount of free space remaining on your monitor. At crunch time in planting season it will be critical to have enough space on your monitor to function properly during the season.

Winter downtime is a good time to to look at the latest firmware updates and download and install any of the new stuff that can help you when planting season begins.

Some basic high tech reminders include:

• Update settings for overlap.

• Test GPS accuracy and settings.

• Test the auto steering abilities and make certain everything is communicating properly.

• Ensure autoboom/swath control features are operational and set appropriately.

Amidst all the excitement and optimism for the 2011 crop, don’t forget the high price of crop inputs and the high value of these crops. Keeping sprayers and planters in top condition in the cold months can pay off in the warm ones.