A careful combine checkup well before harvest can reduce your machinery part and labor costs, keep harvest as timely as the weather allows and likely yield added return per acre.
Randy Taylor, Oklahoma State University agricultural engineer, stresses the importance of assuring your harvest equipment operates as efficiently as possible. “Safe operation during harvest depends partially on preharvest preparation of the combine,” he says. “Combine preparation should begin several weeks before harvest to allow necessary lead time to secure needed replacement parts and to efficiently prepare the combine for harvest. It’s also an effective way to reduce possible breakdowns during harvest.”
Even the loss of 2 kernels per row-foot of corn or 4 kernels for soybeans equals 1 bu./acre left in the field. And less efficient combines can leave much more than that – an unwanted practice that can add up quickly with high corn and bean prices.
For example, if you harvest 1,000 acres of corn or soybeans and leave an extra 2-3 bu./acre in the field, losses can easily surpass tens of thousands of dollars with corn priced at $6-$8/bu. and beans at $14-$17.
Taylor encourages both experienced and inexperienced combine operators to review their combine operator’s manual. “The owner’s manual contains a service or maintenance checklist or guide to keep machines well maintained,” he says.
“It can help experienced operators refresh their memories about correct operating procedures and appropriate safety precautions. And new or inexperienced operators should take time to carefully read the manual and become thoroughly familiar with the operating instructions and safety precautions for the machine.”
A preharvest combine checkup should also include a number of other important operations, which can improve combine efficiency and detect potential safety hazards. They include:
- Thoroughly clean the combine to remove any field trash, rodent nests and oil or grease buildup. “This will help improve combine efficiency by preventing unnecessary wear, which could result in lost time in the field for repairs,” Taylor says. “It may also improve safety.”
- Carefully check for loose or missing nuts, screws, shields and sheet metal. “Missing shields should be promptly replaced to prevent accidental contact with the components they’re designed to guard,” Taylor says. “Other loose or missing hardware should be tightened or replaced to prevent machine breakdown. This could help prevent accidents and reduce harvest time and costs.”
- Inspect all belts, bearings, chains, and other drive components. “It’s much easier and safer to replace worn or broken parts while your combine is setting in a well-lighted, well-equipped shop than while you’re in the middle of a field,” Taylor says. “Look for evidence of wear such as frayed belts, worn or loose chains and sprockets or sloppy bearings. Replace any components you don’t feel will last through the harvesting season.”
Other components which should be thoroughly examined include: auger spirals, headers for proper ear savers, cutter bars for proper flexibility and movement, the grain platform for knife sharpness and wear, skid plates under the grain elevator and other parts for wear and tear.
In these days of high-tech equipment such as GPS guidance systems, yield monitors and other components, make sure they are calibrated properly and provide accurate information.
Of course, there will be occasions when repair is needed during harvest. Be careful. “The only service operation that should be done while the machine is running is the adjustment of the variable speed cylinder or fan, which are adjusted with safety shields in place,” Taylor says. “Don’t be tempted to make other adjustments with the engine running, even if it is convenient.
“Whenever you work on the header or parts beneath it or behind it, be sure to block it securely. Never rely solely on the hydraulic system. It may fail. Properly secure the header latch, safety stand or another suitable block before crawling under the header to do service work.”
Operators should periodically check the hydraulic system for leaks and repair leaky hoses or connections immediately. “Don’t use your hand to check for leaks,” Taylor says. “Many hydraulic systems operate at pressures at or above 2,000 psi, which is three times the pressure required for oil to penetrate your skin.
“And when refueling, take proper precautions to prevent a possible fire or explosion. Allow the engine to cool eight to 10 minutes before refueling to prevent the possibility of igniting gasoline vapors. Keep available a suitable class B fire extinguisher designed for fires involving grease, oil, gasoline or other petroleum products. If you spill fuel, wait a few minutes for it to evaporate before starting the engine.”
Remember, combine safety is just as important as its operation efficiency. The preharvest combine checkup can help prevent kernel losses from happening and provide a safe and bountiful harvest period.
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