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4 Key Summer Maintenance Chores

Prepare equipment during the lull of summer to take on the heat and hectic activity of fall harvest.

The middle of the growing season is a wonderful time on the farm. It’s a rest from the hectic pace of planting and a time to prepare for the long hours and shorter days that are part of the blessings of harvest. When it comes to the machines that will be responsible for bringing in the bounty, the dog days of summer need to be used to ensure that you are  ready to roll. This means every piece of equipment that is employed as a harvest tool must be prepared – not only the combine, grain carts, and harvest trucks but also those used to support the effort.

There is still ongoing work in the fields, especially for your sprayer. Fungicide, foliar nutrition, and possibly some sidedress nitrogen mean that every aspect of your self-propelled sprayer needs to be considered. We all know that middle- to late-season spray work is extremely time sensitive and has the possibility to have a substantial impact on yield. 

The following are areas of maintenance and service that are easily overlooked during the summer as you transition to the harvest season.

1. fluiD analysis

You most likely renewed the engine and hydraulic oil in your equipment before the planting season, and by now, there are some hours on these fluids. Midcycle in a fluid’s life is the perfect time to perform an in-service fluid analysis since for the laboratory test to be valid, the sample needs to have use on it. It is simple to extract a fluid sample from the engine, hydraulic system, and transmission driveline once a small investment of less than $50 is made for the proper extraction pump. 

Most, if not all, fluid analysis laboratories sell fluid sample containers. They are often provided at no cost if you’re going to be testing multiple samples, so don’t be afraid to ask for one. 

Most farmers misunderstand the reason for fluid testing. This analysis technology is needed not only to determine the health of the lubricant, but also to act as a predictor of wear or a potential failure.

If a component is starting to fail, even though there are no signs of it in performance, it will be detected in its fluid.

Think of engine fluid analysis in the same way as you think of plant tissue analysis for your crop. Once the nutrient deficiency of a plant becomes visually recognized, it is too late and yield is lost. Most fluid tests can be performed for around $25 each.

If you test the engine oil and hydraulic and driveline fluids, the total investment should be around $75 per machine, a low price when you consider it allows you to move into harvest with confidence. 

2. tire pressure

Tire inflation is extremely important for field equipment. Even the most fastidious farmers are often not as particular about tire pressure as they should be. For the rest, if the tire isn’t flat, it is good. With all we know today about the relationship of tire pressure to soil compaction, tire pressure should be given the same attention as hybrid selection.

Neglecting tire pressure or using the wrong pressure for the load being carried can wreck years of building soil structure, especially during harvest when in-field traffic patterns are different and dramatically increased. Also, remember that right now your sprayer is running between the rows and very possibly on damp soil, too. 

To get the most performance and service life and to minimize soil structure damage, you need to either borrow your tire dealer’s scales or have it brought to the farm.

The only accurate way to know the correct tire pressure for each piece of equipment when loaded and unloaded is to weigh it. Be sure to reference the tire manufacturer’s chart for the tire size and load for the proper pressure.

This is a one-time chore. Once you have the data, you can then adjust the tire pressure for that machine to the proper setting. For example, weigh the tractor with the planter attached and then, if you use it to pull a grain cart or sprayer, weigh it again in that configuration. Now all you need to do is set the tire pressure from your notebook for that use. Don’t forget the tires on the implements.

When purchasing new tires, consider the technologies available such as the Firestone AD2 and the Goodyear LSW designs. These allow lower tire pressures for the same load, which drastically reduces compaction and soil damage. Tires with this technology cost a few dollars more. However, look at it not as a tire purchase but as an investment in your soil like field tile would be.

A day working with scales and recording different operating weights will pay huge dividends in protecting the soil structure you worked so hard to improve over the years. It offers the added bonus of cutting fuel costs and ensuring that you get all the life possible out of your tires.

3. engine coolant

Most think of antifreeze as providing freeze protection, but the additive package in a coolant mixture guards the engine from corrosion, electrolysis, and cylinder liner cavitation erosion. That additive package is consumed at an exponential rate when the engine is under load. The freeze point will not change with coolant in use, but its protective ingredients will be diminished.

Under load, the coolant boils in the cylinder head around the combustion chamber and exhaust valve. This is how heat is transferred from the casting to the liquid. The boiling and recondensing of the coolant consumes the additives, leaving a liquid that will not freeze but is a detriment to the engine.

Just think of the work the engine performs in pulling a tillage implement hour after hour. Its coolant undergoes countless phase changes, each time negating a small amount of the protective additives.

Invest in a sample test strip kit and, as needed, renew the coolant with the proper supplemental coolant additive to protect your engines during the hard work of harvest.

4. Air-conditioning system

Often, harvest weather requires air conditioning more than during planting. A tractor or combine’s air-conditioning service goes beyond the belt, cleaning debris from the condenser and changing the cabin filter.

An air-conditioning system needs to have the old refrigerant removed, a vacuum pulled to boil out moisture, and then be refilled with the proper amount of refrigerant and oil. If this is not done, the system’s performance will be lacking. More important, when moisture mixes with refrigerant, it creates acid that attacks all internal parts, resulting in a catastrophic failure and thousands of dollars in repair.

Keep in mind that if the refrigerant is moisture laden and you are running the system for hours each day, the exposure time to the acids is greatly increased along with the potential for damage. 

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