Something as simple as calibrating your planter this winter may improve your bottom line in 2001. Research results recently released by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., 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 that 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, agronomy research manager for Pioneer in Johnston, Iowa. Estimates are based on $2-per-bushel corn prices and planting an 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 machine were properly repaired and calibrated for the seed size being planted while the other one-half of the meters were left as is. Yields were then compared across the field to determine the difference between the calibrated and uncalibrated 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, misadjusted 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.

MeterMax services are offered by many Pioneer sales professionals, who are fully trained and supported by Precision Planting. With the MeterMax test stand, trained Pioneer sales representatives use the actual seed size that will be planted in the spring to test reconditioned meters for skips and doubles. After pin-pointing trouble spots, Pioneer sales representatives can custom calibrate each meter to the population, planting speed and spacing desired.

"Pioneer sales representatives work with their customers to select the hybrids that will perform the best," says Kyle Whitaker, product and technology communications manager for Pioneer. "The MeterMax System complements services Pioneer professionals already provide growers through the entire planting process."

Calibration service frequency depends on the number of acres a producer is planting and the planter's condition. 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 first plant their fields, adds Whitaker.

"Once our 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."