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Tillage attack plan
How well implements perform this spring will be determined by your devotion to remedial maintenance in the shop this month. The following is an abbreviated inspection repair tip list created by Kevin Kimberley based on his field experience.
1. Hitch and Frame
Beginning with the hitch and walking your way to the rear of the implement, examine the frame by scrutinizing welds (particularly at hinges) for cracks as well as for twisted or bent steel and worn or loose fasteners and their bushings. “Catch and correct these problems in the shop before they break in the field,” Kimberley says.
Inspect all hydraulic hoses, their fittings, and couplers, as well as cylinders for leaks, wear, and (in the case of hoses) cracking. Replace hoses, fittings, and cylinder seals as needed. Hydraulic leaks, in particular, compromise the ability of an implement to maintain tillage depth or to remain level in operation.
The single most overlooked item on implements, tires need to be examined for wear, weather cracking, and proper inflation. Also, they should be spun by hand “while you watch for smooth rotation and listen for bearing wear. Now is the time to replace worn bearings rather than after they have gone out in the field and possibly could score a spindle in the process,” Kimberley says.
4. Soil-Engaging Tools
Any part that engages the soil must be checked for wear. “Start at the front of the implement and examine disks or coulter blades (if you're using a field-finishing implement) for sharp edges. Next, check for wear on sweeps, shovels, and points. Pay particular attention to those items running behind tractor tires, as they wear the fastest,” Kimberley says. Once the point on a sweep is worn down, it can't penetrate the ground, “much like using a butter knife vs. a steak knife. Worn sweeps also smear the soil (creating a hardpan) and are less effective breaking up big clods.” Dull disks are even worse at compacting soil, “as they are pushing, not cutting, into the ground.” Blunt blades can lift an implement out of the ground often increasing draft by 15% to 20% or higher, causing a tractor to consume more fuel. “You can sharpen disk blades. I replace wavy or rippled coulters,” he says.
Often ignored, shanks and their mountings exert a major influence on sweep, or shovel, performance. Study all shanks to see if they are twisted and “shake them up and down and side to side to determine how worn their fasteners and related bushings are,” Kimberley recommends. “Check springs for elongation and lost tension and their mountings. Mounting bolts and spring cups (retainers and washers) do wear and break.”
6. Finishing Attachments
Begin your inspection with finishing attachment frames and mounting points. “Such attachments are crucial to leveling fields and distributing residue, which has a huge impact on planter performance,” Kimberley says. Check any soil-engaging component for wear. “Coil tine length is particularly critical to how well they perform. Pay close attention to tines or spikes (if so equipped) at the front of the ranks, as they wear fastest.” Regarding rolling baskets, the key here is to appraise their bearings for smooth rotation; examine the baskets for bent rods or bars.
Engage all hazard lights, and replace bulbs and worn wiring as needed. “We take lights for granted. If they don't work, we figure we'll take care of them later,” Kimberley says. “But if lack of lights causes an accident, the least of your concerns will be if you can even buy a replacement implement before planting season is over.”
You need to make adjusting spring tillage gear a daily chore, Kimberley says. Never assume a new implement is properly adjusted, either.
“As a rule, double-check adjustments whenever conditions change, whether it's an alteration in soil type or residue coverage (such as when changing fields) or soil moisture (as the day progresses and fields dry out).”
The ultimate goal is to have an implement delivering even tillage from side to side and front to back.
Common symptoms of failing to meet this goal are the swales and ridges left behind in the field. “Beyond these undulations causing row units to bounce, you are leaving strips of soft seedbed (where sweeps ran deep) or hardpan (where they failed to till),” Kimberley explains. “Uneven tillage leaves trails that can be seen a month later in uneven seed emergence.”
Kimberley also offers another crucial adjustment tip. “Always have two people involved with the process. Have one person run the tractor and the second person driving alongside the implement checking its performance while it is operating,” he says. “With the size of today's equipment, you really can't do much of a job checking an implement's performance from inside a tractor cab. Besides, the best time to check an implement's performance is while it is operating.”
It is vital that implements run level, not only from side to side but also from front to back. “I can't overemphasize what a huge impact level tillage operation has on planter performance,” Kimberley says.
Begin the leveling process by checking the stopped implement in the ground. To make this job easier, Kimberley uses plastic wire ties to attach a plastic level to the front and side of the implement.
After initial leveling adjustments are made, check for level operation while running in the field.
“This is crucial, as an implement can change inclination when running. Make sure to check for level operation throughout the season.” Hitch adjustment, particularly on implements with floating hitches, also requires attention. And often overlooked is leveling of finishing attachments, which, if left running askew, is the leading cause of trash windrowing and bunching, Kimberley says.
9. Operating Depth
First, examine actual operating depth both by digging into the field in several locations across the entire width of an implement and by digging down to the bottom of disks or sweeps with the implement at rest but still in the soil. “I have often found tillage depth at the wings is not the same depth as at the main frame, which could indicate a leaky hydraulic cylinder or low tire,” Kimberley says. “I also insist that all of my clients use chains that hang off the front corners of their implements so they check depth on-the-go, as well.” Such leveling chains run 4 inches off the ground to provide the tractor operator a quick check of running performance.
Kimberley prefers to have finish implements set to evenly distribute trash on the surface. “Leave as much trash on the surface where a planter's trash wheels can sweep it out of the way for the double-disk openers,” he says.
10. Sweep Operation
Kimberley prefers to see the shanks on sweeps “vibrating, dancing when they operate.” If a sweep is not moving, you are smearing and compacting the soil underneath it. Also, active sweeps are far more effective at breaking up surface clods.
11. Finishing Attachments
In addition to double-checking that they are operating level, also determine if the full width of the attachment is making complete contact with the soil. “This is your last chance to break up clods, level out the surface, and distribute residue – all of which has an influence on planter operation,” Kimberley says. Coil tine attachments that fill with trash and rolling baskets that leave a bunch of trash behind are a sure sign that the attachment is not operating level.
Also, don't be content with remaining at one operation angle (if your attachments are adjustable) for the season. “There is a good reason manufacturers make these things adjustable,” he says. “Evaluate the operating angles to suit changing field conditions, particularly as fields dry out.”
Kimberley prefers to run spring finishing implements, particularly field cultivators, fast. “I tell my clients to run cultivators at 8 mph to 8½ mph. Doing so generates more tillage vibration through the sweeps and helps explode the soil-reducing clods,” he says. “Faster speeds help to distribute trash.”
The Tillage Doctor
Kevin Kimberley has made it his life's work to coach farmers on fine-tuning their tillage and planting operations to produce high yields. He began repairing and calibrating seed meters in 1980 and has since created a private consulting business based out of his farm near Maxwell, Iowa. Experience gained from working with farmers aided by extensive field research has helped Kimberley develop a sixth sense on how to select a tillage system and how to set a planter to support optimal yield performance in the field. Contact Kimberley by calling 515/967-2583, by visiting www.kimberleyagconsulting.com, or by emailing Kevin@KimberleyAgConsulting.com.