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Sunflower Planter Tips

A perfectly set planter is the path to sunflower success. Much of a sunflower field’s potential yield and quality is set long before harvest, at the very point the seed is put in the ground. So what can farmers, contractors and tractor/drill operators do to ensure they give their crop the best possible start?

Using a precision drill to establish sunflowers is generally regarded as the optimum method of giving the crop the ideal foundation. When working into a well-prepared seedbed, this type of seeder is the ideal tool to ensure sunflower seeds are planted at not only the correct depth, but also at precisely even spacing.

This means each plant has an equal amount of space, and therefore has an equal amount of rooting area within the soil, for even seedling emergence and early growth. As it grows, each plant will also have an even amount of above-ground space in which its leaves can intercept sunlight, further helping to maximise yield. It is these factors that give each plant an even chance of achieving its maximum yield potential, in terms of head size and seed count.

ADVICE FROM AMAZONE

Mario Wessels, product manager for precision sowing technology at Amazone, points out that, although the majority of precision drills are sold primarily with maize/corn in mind, and equipped to suit this crop, with machines such as the company’s Precea drill it is necessary to change only the singling disc to prepare for work in sunflowers.

“Sunflowers do not establish well in compacted soils, and the seed’s germination capacity is also very different from that of maize. Accordingly, good and even soil cultivation and seedbed preparation is the cornerstone for optimal field emergence. As a rule, significantly fewer plants emerge compared to maize. Row spacing also tends to be greater in Eastern European countries, with 75cm common in Hungary and 70cm in Russia and Ukraine, while in France it is generally 50cm or 60cm.”

So for those using a precision drill to plant their sunflower crops, there is a great deal of value in ensuring the machine being used is prepared correctly before sowing commences, so its ability to plant seed evenly is maximised. Taking some time to set up the machine before entering work will pay off through the season – and, ultimately, down the line at harvest.

GUIDANCE FROM VADERSTAD

According to Lars Thylén, of Tempo precision drill manufacturer Väderstad, seeds with a pointed shape such as sunflower are generally a little more complicated to plant successfully than round seeds like corn and soya.

“But as with any large seed of this type, the higher the quality – in terms of not only the breeding, but also the consistency in size, shape and evenness of seed treatment application – will make a big difference to the success with which it emerges after sowing.

“If the seed is treated, it is quite often a little sticky – when you handle it with gloves it will stick to them,” he says.

“In this situation the addition of a flowing agent seed additive can help to ensure the seed flows smoothly from the hopper and through the metering system to the coulter units.

“Good-quality seed should also be as free as possible of debris, but try to ensure when filling the seed hoppers on the drill/planter that no other foreign material – such as pieces of seed bag – is able to enter.

Typical seed rates in the primary sunflower-growing countries of Eastern Europe are around 60,000 seeds/ha, notes Mr Thylén.

“There are usually three key components to attend to in order to make a planter work perfectly: the pressure (vacuum) in the seed meter, the singulators, and the size of the holes in the seed disc.

 “With regard to the drill itself, perhaps the most basic and important point to success is ensuring the correct seed disc is used. The heavier the seed – measured by its thousand grain/kernel weight – the larger holes in the disc are required.

Test the planter with the seed to be used before the sowing season begins. This is easily done with modern planters equipped with electrical drive. At the same time, ensure that, on each seed disc, the knock-out system that removes the seed from each hole on the disc works properly. Some drills have an alarm system for plugged holes, and if this is the same with your machine then ensure it is working correctly.

“Of the adjustable components, the easiest to make sure you have right is the pressure in the seed meter. Check the operator’s manual, and the regular placement of the seed once working in the field, and adjust the fan speed if it is obvious that the seeds are not being distributed at the same pace as the forward speed of the tractor.”

When planting in the field, checking seed placement at regular intervals is good practice, and this should take into account accurate depth as well as spacing, says Mr Thylén.

“Most of our customers sowing sunflowers aim for a seeding depth of 4-5cm. It’s important to check seed spacing and depth every so often, especially in new fields and soil types. A good planter operator who checks regularly will have dirty knees and gloves!

“But while it is important to ensure good depth, ensure you do not apply too much down-force as this will bury the seed too deeply. Make sure also that the seed furrow is properly closed – this can also change in varying soil types and levels of moisture.

“The same checks for placement and application also apply to any fertiliser and/or micro-granule nutrients you are applying from the drill at the same time. With fertiliser, of course, it is essential to ensure it is placed beneath and to the side of the seed, so that it cannot scorch the emerging seedling but is instead accessible by the new plant as it develops. And ensure, of course, all adjustments are made across all drill units.”

HELP FROM HORSCH

Thomas Mold, precision drill specialist at Maestro manufacturer Horsch, echoes Mr Thylén’s emphasis on the importance of correct seed disc selection. He has a few more points of advice to add, to ensure operators get the best from their drills.

“It’s important to make sure the seed gate is set so the correct amount of seed is presented to the seed disc, and that the correct sliding bridge, which acts as a vacuum interruptor to allow each seed to leave the disc, is fitted and in good condition.

“Ensure the fixed inside scraper on the seed coulter is fitted and in good condition, and that the outside scraper is set in the correct position for the seed in question. The correct procedures for all these points are shown in the operator’s manual.

“Checking the individual seed motors are working is also essential. Fully adjust the shims on the motor drive shaft to minimise the power required drive the motor. Inspect all electronic plugs and cables to the seed unit drive motor.

“Next, ensure the seed metering unit is clean and free from dust and seed dressing, and that the air intake for the vacuum is clear on all seeding units. Vacuum hoses must also all be fitted correctly and in good condition. Check the vacuum fan is in good condition with no oil leaks.

“Lastly, clean all seed drop tubs and seed count sensors. Then check and measure the coulter discs, to ensure they are still of a sufficient diameter to do the job. Check the disc bearings are in good condition so they can rotate freely. Then inspect the seed catching wheel and covering wheels for any damage. If all is well, you should then have covered the key points of ensuring your drill is ready for work.”

CALIBRATION PROCEDURE 

Most modern precision drills are operated via an electronic terminal mounted in the tractor cab. It is also used for calibrating the drill before work begins, to ensure the machine plants the desired number of seeds at the desired intervals, all in relation to the forward speed of the tractor. In order to calibrate your machine properly, you should follow the guidelines provided in the operator’s manual supplied with your particular make and model drill. The following list is based on advice for the Väderstad Tempo, but the key points below apply across most precision drills.

  1. Study the operator’s manual for your particular make and model of drill
  2. Check all key drill components as previously described for wear and cleanliness
  3. Follow all safety procedures
  4. Ensure the drill fan and controller are switched off before opening the seeder unit cover
  5. Ensure the sliding hatch is closed to prevent the seed flowing from the hopper
  6. Install a seed bag or container below the seed meter
  7. Open the disc cover
  8. When replacing a disc with a new unit, also change the knock-out wheel, ensuring it is the correct one to match the disc
  9. Install the disc and ensure it is locked into place
  10. Fill the hopper with seed
  11. The drill controller will usually be pre-installed with the machine settings from the factory, and these can usually be left unaltered.
  12. Select the row unit to be calibrated and the desired adjustment increment (say 5%)
  13. Enter the planned driving speed for which you are performing the calibration
  14. Enter the desired seed rate and the number of holes in the seed disc
  15. Choose if you wish to calibrate by space between plants or seed number per area
  16. Place calibration bag or other container under the seed outlet of the row unit
  17. Start the fan and run the calibration process, ensuring the pressure is correct (3.5KpA)
  18. Run the calibration for sufficient time that 200 seeds are dispensed
  19. Adjust the singulator dial set to the desired direction, and re-run the test until the results are consistent and correct
  20. Exit the calibration menu on the controller and empty the bag into the hopper.
  21. Where required, use the same procedure for fertiliser and micro-granule calibration
  22. Check your results soon after work has begun in the field, and at regular intervals thereafter