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There's no delicate way to put it – farming is a dirty business. And taking the brunt of that dirt, dust, and debris is the machinery you depend on.
For more than 15 years, Tim Nord has made his living by helping Illinois farmers keep their ag equipment clean. His business, Power Wash Services, offers on-site cleaning with a mobile water supply. Nord and Hotsy's Matt Meyer say there are five key reasons why farmers should keep machinery spick-and-span.
1. Maintenance issues
Mud or debris can mask hidden problems. “By cleaning equipment, you can detect leaks and worn or broken parts,” says Nord. “Clean machinery is also easier and faster to work on,” says Meyer.
Cleaning exposes a potential issue such as corrosive elements in herbicides and fertilizers that can eat away at paint and parts if not removed completely. If cleaning can't be done as soon as possible after use, at the very least, it should be done before equipment is stored. When equipment isn't cleaned properly before storing, it can cause a breakdown the following season.
2. Better trade or resale value
Corrosive and rusty parts that begin to poke through on equipment (because it wasn't cleaned properly) can cost you. “Clean equipment has a better trade or resale value,” reminds Meyer.
3. More efficient performance
Clean equipment doesn't have to work as hard. “Equipment runs cooler when the radiators and engine compartments are clean,” notes Nord.
4. Employee pride
Farmers take great pride in their equipment, and a lineup that sparkles can resonate with everyone in the operation. “Employees take care of clean equipment, and they know when something is wrong,” Nord says.
5. Diminished fire hazard
As machinery goes through its paces, buildup of trash and other fire hazards can occur quickly. “Excessive oil, fuel, and debris can cause a fire,” says Nord.
Beyond hiring a service like Nord's, another way to battle the grime and grit that accumulate on equipment is to invest in a pressure washer. But before you pull out the checkbook, Meyer says there are three important questions to consider.
• Cold or hot? Cold water pressure washers are better suited for applications where grease and oil are not a factor.
“Cold water washers will move dirt and dust, but they tend to smear grease,” says Meyer. “If the equipment you are cleaning has any kind of grease or oil, you will need a hot water pressure washer to clean it. Most farm equipment will have oil, grease, and hydraulic fluids.”
• GPM or PSI? What's more important – GPM or psi? Is 2,000 psi at 4 GPM better than 4,000 psi at 2 GPM?
“It depends on your cleaning application,” says Meyer. “When you are cleaning heavy soils, more gallons per minute can be important to flush away the dirt and grease. Greater pressure can help remove stuck-on grime.”
Ultimately, your decision will come down to what you'll clean, how often, and who'll be using the machine.
“I always recommend an on-site demonstration so I can see the most difficult cleaning problems the customer is facing,” notes Meyer.
• Direct or belt drive? The direct-drive pump is connected to the engine shaft, and its rpm is the same as the engine's rpm. Pressure washers with these drives are more compact. This drive system is simple. Fewer moving parts mean it's also less expensive. “These units run at much higher rpm,” says Meyer.
But there are disadvantages. By having the pump spin as much as the engine or motor, bearings and other parts get more wear and tear, which reduces the life span of the pump. Because the faster pumps of direct-drive pressure washers are spinning so fast, they can't draw water from a tank very well. They do seem to work fine when hooked up to a hose, however.
A belt-drive pump has a pulley mounted to its solid shaft and is driven by one or more belts attached to a pulley on the motor or engine. The pump on this system turns at much lower rpm than a direct-drive pump.
“The belt drive will be a better choice if you're using a pressure washer several hours a week and in harsh conditions due to lower rpm on the pump (900 to 1,750),” notes Meyer. “Typically, slower speeds equate to less wear on the pump seals, and the belt acts like a shock absorber between the pump and motor.”
The belt-drive pump crankcase has a larger oil capacity, which, combined with lower rpm, allows the pump to run much cooler than a direct-drive pump.
The disadvantage is that the added friction from the belts and pulleys causes some loss of efficiency. Another drawback is belts occasionally need to be adjusted.
Trend is to gas-fired
Meyer says he's starting to see a trend: Farmers are moving toward stationary gas-fired (natural gas and liquid propane) machines. “The three advantages are you never have to fill the fuel tank with diesel, there are fewer moving parts, and there's no chance for contaminated fuel,” he notes.
While oil-fired machines are still the most popular choice for ag, Meyer says it comes down to personal preference.
Above is a sampling of manufacturers that offer hot water pressure washers.