You won’t necessarily notice the savings from maintaining your equipment well. But you will notice the hefty cost if you don’t.
Your machinery will run at maximum performance and efficiency if it is well maintained. Neglect any element, or fail to check moving parts regularly and you could face large repair bills that could have been averted. If these fall in the middle of harvest or silage-making, the downtime can be very costly indeed.
Perhaps more serious are the legal implications. Injuries at work are both costly and harrowing, and most farm accidents involve poorly maintained machinery. So a little time spent on a proper maintenance plan is a worthwhile investment.
The first thing you do every morning and the last thing you do at night should be to check around your machine. Check there is no damage or wear, that nuts are not loose or missing, that weights are secure, pins are intact and no oil is leaking. Wearing parts on a plough, for example, should always be tightened, adjusted or renewed as necessary.
For the tractor, follow the FLOWER procedure:
Fuel: Refill before every job
Lights: Check they are all working, especially before going on the road
Oil: Check all levels, including engine, back end and hydraulics
Water: Check coolant and top up as necessary
Electrics: Wipers, horn, in-cab electrics and especially trailer electrics should be checked before moving off
Rubber: Check your tyres for wear and condition
You should also check the general condition of your cab, bearing safety in mind. Stray drinks cans, flasks and dogs should not be allowed to get under the clutch or brake pedals.
Air filters are very susceptible to clogging up on a farm. During harvest and when cultivating a filter can accrue enough dust in just half a day to cause a noticeable drop in engine efficiency. These should be cleaned out daily with compressed air.
As well as a daily oil check, oil filters should be changed regularly. On a turbocharged engine, the filter needs to be changed every 200-250 hours, which may mean three changes within a season for some tractors. Oil not only lubricates, but takes out the carbon and transfers heat. Over a period it thins and engine efficiency will drop as a result. Leave it too long before changes and engine rings will wear down quicker, leading to costly repairs. Oil levels in power harrow gearboxes also need regular checks.
Greased and sharp
Grease points need regular attention. Key ones to maintain are around the steering axle and pto shafts. Pushing grease in regularly keeps the dirt out and they wear less quickly. Moving parts on combines and some implements need daily greasing. Where the grease points are remote from the moving part, check the line is still intact and grease is getting to where it should be.
Cutting blades on combines, forage harvesters, mowers and balers should be checked for wear and that they are cutting cleanly. A machine will work a lot harder and perform a poorer job with blunt blades, costing you money. Take extra care when maintaining these – lock the drive shaft or ram so that it doesn’t move.
Knotters on the baler can be infuriating when they go wrong. They need regular adjustment so that tolerances are good. Keep them well greased and check for free play every day.
A little time spent on implements at the end of the season or during quiet times can save a lot of time getting them ready for the next. On tractors, winter is a good opportunity to change fuel filter, flush out the engine, change radiator coolant and other points and filters that need only occasional servicing. The operator manual will usually point to these. Clean out the cab filter before air gets damp and things start to grow out of the accumulated dust.
On implements check for movement and wear. It’s a time to build up weld and take things to pieces, replace worn belts and chains. Always clear straw and chaff out of combines and balers before parking up for the winter. Otherwise they will attract mice who will gnaw seals and could contaminate next year’s crop.
At the heart of a good maintenance plan lies accurate recording.
The essential elements are that it should be as easy as possible to maintain and should log everything, from fuel fill-ups to gearbox changes. A clipboard or notebook in the tractor cab is the easiest way to keep it. If you also keep an easy-reference periodic chart of when filters and checks should be made, this ensures nothing is missed.
The best systems keep a log of all associated costs. You can then keep an accurate check on the machines and processes costing you the most, and that’s when you can make some serious savings.
Case study: Andrew Walters, Kemble Farms, Costwolds
Treat your tractor as you would a top-of-the-range Ferrari sports car – they’re worth about the same after all. This is the view of Andrew Walters, arable manager of the 1400ha Kemble Farms near Cirencester.
“We aim to employ the best staff and really push the point. If they take pride in how they look after their kit, it performs better, costs less and they get more out of the job, too,” he says.
There are three main tractors – two Fendts and a Case Quadtrac – and a Bateman 4000-litre self-propelled sprayer. “The tractors are always in good condition. I feel there’s no excuse for a dusty, dirty cab. And the farm staff take time to look after them – that’s important.”
Mr Walters encourages regular breaks during the day to get out of the cab and check all is well and is a stickler for the daily maintenance routine. “Spending 10 minutes in the morning going round the machine can save you hours of breakdowns later in the day.” The key points are to check nuts and bolts, levels, blow out filters and go round with a grease gun.
All servicing is done in-house, following maintenance plans based on manufacturers’ recommendations. He aims to bring all the arable kit into the workshop over the winter for more thorough servicing, with a dealer performing a service every 1000 hours. “When it comes to parts, genuine is always best,” he says.
The combine, a Claas Lexion 580 with a 30ft header, is on a dealer maintenance plan and receives a thorough daily check during harvest – the compressor becomes Mr Walters’ best friend. “All filters and radiators are blown out daily and the whole combine is blown clean every other day. It’s greased every day, and that’s a must – a couple of pumps a day never does any harm.”
Three golden rules
1 Know the limitations of the system in terms of accuracy and performance
2 Set it up correctly – don’t discover an error after you have cultivated half the farm
3 Involve all of your team – you get the most out of it if everyone knows how to use the kit correctly
Read the other articles in our Machinery Savings Challenge series.