To ensure the safest, most efficient planting season possible, tuning up farm machinery can be as important as scouting for weeds, tilling the soil or other spring field operations, a Purdue Extension specialist says. Robert Stwalley, assistant clinical professor of agricultural and biological engineering, urged producers to get a jump start on vehicle maintenance. “Early preparation for spring planting is time well-invested,” he said. “Instead of wishing for sunnier days and warmer weather, the wise farmer uses the gray and cold times to be ready to hit the fields running when the seasons change.”
Well-maintained equipment is also much safer than equipment in disrepair. Stwalley offered these tips for keeping farm machinery in good working order:
* Clean the equipment: Wash machinery thoroughly with soap and water to remove dirt, chemical build-up, excess grease and plant material. Stwalley noted that some experts even recommend washing machinery between operations in different fields to reduce the chance of chemical or biological contamination from one field to the next. While washing the equipment, farmers should note any necessary repairs or parts that need to be replaced.
* Verify functionality: Stwalley said producers should disassemble, clean, inspect and refurbish all seed distribution components on their equipment. He advised making sure each assembly is functioning properly before re-installing it on the planter.
“Seed delivery mechanisms, fertilizer applicators, herbicide nozzles and insecticide distributors are delicate pieces of equipment that perform critical operations during planting season,” Stwalley said. “Work across each row and through all applicators on the planter, and treat seed metering and dispensing assemblies as if they were a high-performance carburetor or delicate pocket watch.”
* Calibrate the machine: Each dispensing apparatus on each row must be calibrated. To do this, producers will need to engage all of the distribution mechanisms and run the machine through a calibration course at operational speed. The next step is to count the number of seeds dropped or measure the weight of the dispensed material. This process will help producers determine how to adjust the machine to achieve proper distribution during planting.
* Verify the correct operation of all planter sensors: Stwalley recommends verifying the proper operation of each row’s monitoring system and replacing any malfunctioning components.
“Modern planting equipment is filled with electronics,” he said. “Precision agriculture requires massive amounts of data, and only good data is worth collecting. Bad data makes things hard to manage and is sometimes difficult to spot. You can’t fix bad data after the fact.”