Planter preparation – what you need to know

An extensive pre-season planter inspection and overhaul can prevent costly breakdowns, says Joe Spencer.

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The Massey Ferguson 543 precision planter shown on this page is about to be overhauled after 15 years of work. I use it to illustrate the steps that must be taken to ensure that a planter is in working order before the start of the season.

Before overhaul – This MF543 is fitted with a residue management system and a sprayer to apply pre-emergence weedicide. Check the row spacing and alignment to ensure that none of the units has shifted on the toolbar. Remove all corrosion and fertiliser residue, and prime and repaint the affected areas. Ideally, this should be done as soon as planting is completed at the end of every season.

Disc opener/trash wheels – Check the alignment and spring tension on the opening disc coulters. Replace worn discs, as these are likely to prove ineffective when dealing with heavy crop residue in a no-till operation. The fertiliser openers at the rear of these discs are subject to wear and may also need replacing. Check all bearings and replace if at all suspect. The cost of a new bearing is relatively low compared to the cost of downtime due to a failure in the lands. In addition, worn bearings can cause grooves in the shafts and these are expensive to replace. Inspect the spiral seed and fertiliser hoses, and replace any that have started to deteriorate. If using hoses other than those supplied by the original manufacturer, make sure they are the right size and quality and secure them with the correct hose clips.

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Drive/press wheels – Excessive wear on the press wheels can show up as dents or even holes – replace if necessary. The bearings on the double disc seed openers and the discs themselves are critical – a disc that stops rotating will have a detrimental effect on seed-placing accuracy. Seed planting units are generally driven by ground wheels, so correct tyre inflation pressure is important.

Seed discs
– Efficient seed metering can be affected if the cell wheels are contaminated by seed dressing. Cell wheels  should be removed and thoroughly cleaned at the end of every season; compressed air alone is not enough – you also need warm, soapy water. If the planter has an electronic monitoring system, clean the optical sensors.


Press wheels – Check for wear on the press wheels and bearings and make sure the angle setting is correct for the specific operation. 

The fan – Prevent premature failure of the fan bearings by regularly emptying the pre-cleaner filter if fitted. If the fan is driven by the tractor PTO, ensure that the shaft can telescope fully when the machine is raised. On this particular unit, the fan is driven hydraulically. 


Check hydraulics – Check all hydraulic systems for leaks and replace any seals, hoses or couplings showing signs of wear. Replace hydraulic fluid if necessary, using only the type specified by the manufacturer in order to avoid damage.

Auxiliary drives – Check and, if necessary, change the oil in the gearbox driving the auxiliary pump (again, use only the specified type). Also, examine the hoses for wear and replace the hose clips if necessary.

Spray booms/nozzles – If an auxiliary sprayer system is fitted, as in this case, do a test run with just water to check the hoses, spray nozzles and spray pattern.


Change filters – Replace all filters on the hydraulics and spray system.

Marker assemblies – Check the operation and distance setting of the bout markers and renew the ram seals if there’s any sign of leakage.