Good Execution Requires Great Calibration

A rock solid agronomic recommendation is a good place to start when making cropping plans. However, the benefits of a library of sound agronomic knowledge and thoughtful planning by your team of consultants will not be realized if the application misses the target. Many field operations are controlled behind the scenes by sophisticated software and electronic systems that perform most of the heavy lifting, and we rely on these pieces to work together to place valuable inputs in the correct place and in the prescribed amounts.  It is easy to become complacent and believe the values displayed in the monitor accurately reflect the true performance of the system.

Trust but Verify.  Before the equipment leaves the shop, take time to verify equipment settings and calibrations that feed information to the control systems.  Measure the performace near the normal operating range and also check slightly below and above the range to check for potential problems.  For example, a flow meter that will normally be operating at 12 gallon per acre might check out fine at 3 GPM or 25 GPM but miss the mark at 12 GPM where it counts.

List equipment by category and identify parts by serial number or a personalized identification system so that records can be kept on past calibrations, as this will help identify parts that may be failing and need replacement.  Think through your operation and list the critical components that need to be performance checked on a regular or seasonal basis such as Scales, Load Cells, Flow Meters, Flow Control Devices, Metering Devices, Planter Seed Meters, Speed and Distance Sensors, Starter Fertilizer Systems, Guidance Systems, and Row Clutches.

An often overlooked component is the liquid meter supplied with a bulk pesticide shuttle.  If these meters are not owned by the farm operation and provided by the retailer it can be a challenge to keep up with the maintenance and proper performance of the pump and meter but it is a critical part of the pesticide application.  For example, pull records from last year and look at the total gallons used for a common liquid bulk product and calculate the financial impact if a bulk meter is over-applying by 12%.  It takes only a few minutes to pump the product into a calibrated 5 gallon container to verify proper performance. Always calibrate using the specific product that will be metered as viscosity differences among products may cause errors in measurements.  When measuring dry products with a volumetric container supplied by the manufacturer always use the container labeled for your specific product as changes in density among products can lead to measuring errors.  It is advisable to check these measuring containers with a scale when possible.

If ground wheel metering systems are used it is important to check rates and calibration performance in field conditions where the machine will be operating.  A rough set-up calibration can be made on a hard road or smooth grass area but actual field performance will change and adjustments need to be made.  A permanently marked distance of 200 to 400 yards verified with a tape measure can be useful especially when equipment fails and new parts need to be calibrated quickly during the season.

Now is the time to verify calibrations that will be critical in getting your crop off to a great start.

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