5-point plan for peak tillage performance

Here is your preseason inspection and maintenance guide.

A fortune is invested in tillage systems, but often a pittance is spent in time and money on maximizing the way the equipment performs in the field. “We devalue that investment by ignoring an implement’s operating performance,” says Kevin Kimberley, a Maxwell, Iowa, operations consultant. “Such negligence is made worse by the fact that we’re running planters faster than ever while doing less tillage.”

Poorly maintained tillage equipment can leave behind a field resembling a boulder-strewn road complete with potholes and washboard ridges for a planter’s row unit. That directly affects its performance and eventual crop yields. Based on decades of field research and observations, Kimberley details five specific areas you’ll want to inspect in order to maintain your tillage gear.

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. 

2. Tires. The single most-overlooked item on implements, tires need to be examined for wear, weather cracking, and proper inflation. Spin tires by hand “while you watch for smooth rotation and listen for bearing wear. Now is the time to replace worn bearings rather than when they’ve gone out in the field,” Kimberley says.  

3. Soil-Engaging Components. Any part that engages the soil must be checked for wear. “Start at the front of the implement and examine disks or coulter blades for sharp edges. Next, check for wear on sweeps, shovels, and points. Pay particular attention to those soil engaging components running behind tractor tires, as they wear the fastest,” he 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 at 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 and causing a tractor to consume more fuel. “You can sharpen disk blades. I replace wavy or rippled coulters.” 

4. Shanks. 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 also check their mountings. Mounting bolts and spring cups (retainers and washers) do wear and break.” 

5. Rear Attachments. Inspect finishing attachment frames and mounting points. “Such attachments are crucial to leveling fields and distributing residue, which has a huge impact on planter performance next spring,” he 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,” he says.

Regarding rolling baskets, the key here is to appraise their bearings for smooth rotation, so examine baskets for bent rods or bars.

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