My first semester of my college sophomore year has been off to a busy and exciting start. I am really starting to feel like an agricultural communications student because I have already turned in more papers than tests. It’s exciting to learn more about doing what I enjoy, and to be challenged in a different way this semester.
One of my classes, called agriculture feature writing and reporting, allows us to write about a series of topics using different writing styles. My most recent story was about ‘Maintaining and Improving Farm Equipment.’
I learned quite a bit while writing this story, and I know my Papa Luther could have learned something from it too! If you’re more mechanical than my Papa and I, which doesn’t take much, I hope you’ll pick up something new, or at least be reminded of the importance behind the routines you already have in place.
Maintaining and improving machinery is critical for increasing overall efficiency and having a successful farming or ranching operation. Fortunately, there are several maintenance practices that can be used to maintain and improve machinery. These practices will increase machine efficiency and prevent larger expenses. “Maintenance is really important. It makes your machinery last longer, and it makes it perform better,” said University of Arkansas Agricultural Systems Technology professor Dr. Don Johnson.
Machinery storage methods are one of the simplest ways to protect machinery and increase their trade-in value. Belts, tires and hoses are more likely to deteriorate when the tractor is stored outdoors and exposed to winter weather. Proper storage can prevent tractors from ending up in the shop which saves time and money. A study from the University of Nebraska found that a small tractor that has been stored inside will increase in trade-in value by around $400 each year. Tractors, combines, planters, drills, forage choppers, trucks and pickups all benefit from being kept inside. Tillage implements are the least affected by being stored outdoors, and as a result, show the least amount of decline in value when left outside.
One of the simplest and most important methods of preventative maintenance is following the machine instruction manual’s suggestions, especially when it comes to changing tractor fluids such as engine and hydraulic oil. Manuals should be referenced for information on how regularly the fluids should be changed, and what specific fluid should be used. According to a University of Nebraska study, farmers can reduce machinery repair cost by 25% with regular maintenance practices such as these. With multiple machines and plenty happening on the farm, it’s helpful to utilize service record charts or a separate calendar to keep track of machine hours and necessary scheduled maintenance.
“A common practice that is very helpful is to mark the engine and hydraulic oil filters on the machine with the dates and hours recorded when the last service was performed. This is done using a paint marker. The operator should use a color that contrasts against the color of the filter so it can be seen easily. This way the maintenance record stays on the machine itself” said Harper.
In addition to regular maintenance, it is important to consider fuel cleanliness. “Fuel systems in modern tractors are much more advanced and require very clean diesel fuel,” said Kubota Tractor Corporation Field Service Manager Matt Harper. Many equipment operators store fuel in an outdoor tank. Outdoor tanks can be very convenient during harvest or hay season however, they are often a cause of fuel contamination. Fuel can be contaminated with dirt, water, rust or other substances. Contaminated diesel fuel can be detrimental to engine performance and should be avoided.
A document by the Association of Equipment Manufactures shares several practices that can be used to ensure clean fuel. Periodically emptying and cleaning the fuel tank, as well as ensuring the tank has proper filters, can be beneficial. “A local machinery dealer can be a good source of advice regarding best fuel cleanliness practices,” said Harper.
Additionally, replacing air filters regularly will help keep tractor engines running smoothly. Air filters collect dirt and dust that would otherwise enter into the engine. A clogged air filter prevents the engine from getting enough air and causes it to have to work unnecessarily to pull in enough air. Dr. Johnson has studied the differences in horsepower when tractors had a dirty air filter in comparison to a clean air filter. He found that there was a horsepower difference of five in some cases, which can equate to some big savings when tractors are running more efficiently.
Another, more modern, method of efficiency is the use of telematics. Telematics is another tool made possible through the use of GPS in tractors. Kubota launched its telematics system in fall of 2020 through the my Kubota app. “When someone purchases telematics, they essentially purchase a computer that will transmit machinery data from their tractor to the app on their phone,” said Harper. Telematics functions allow the user to monitor fuel levels, DEF levels, machine location and more all through an app. The technology also has theft prevention methods that “allow you to see what the machines does when you’re not there” according to Harper. Harper said that those that already utilize the convenience of a smartphone seem to be very interested in the telematics technology.
Maintaining and improving farm equipment takes time and planning. It can be difficult to allot time for preventative measures, however the benefits of preventative work are significant. Several small changes can result in big savings.
“What do you gain when you gain efficiency? You’re obviously going to make more money, but you’re also going to get the same job done in less time,” said Johnson. “So, you’ll have more time to spend with your family, working off the farm, enjoying yourself and doing other things.