Farming

Thursday 21 August 2014

Hellish harvest of 2012 took a big toll on combines

Derek Casey

Published 06/11/2012 | 05:00

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The appalling weather meant that many farmers had to use combines in conditions for which they were never designed

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But for those precious few dry days we got at the end of August and the beginning of September, harvest 2012 would have gone down as a complete and utter disaster.

Indeed, some unfortunates were farming in ground that was so soggy by the end of August that the 'seven-day summer' we had simply wasn't near enough to allow combines to work.

It turned into a salvage job for a lot of growers, and that is always something that spells trouble for machinery.

In the end, many were left with no option but to rush the job in conditions that combines were simply not designed for working in.

Damp and heavy crops will have inevitably caused damage to key combine parts such as the concave and unloading auger, but the good news is that a pre-winter service can fix these problems.

Servicing at this time of the year is a good idea because it is traditionally a quieter time on the farm, when you have time to do those jobs that have been on the checklist for a while. Moreover, your local machinery dealer will be all too happy to see you ordering replacement machinery parts at this time of year, because the winter months are quieter times for these guys as well.

I know a good few FTMTA dealers offer attractive rates for servicing machinery out of season so this is something well worth checking out.

To get some tips on the sort of things combine owners need to be checking for after the tough season, I spoke to Darragh Mullin, combine specialist with New Holland.

These days Darragh is based in New Holland headquarters in Basildon, UK but -- being originally from Galway -- he knows only too well the machinery difficulties summer 2012 presented here at home.

Darragh summarised the following tips:

nFirst, remove all panels, guards and covers and use either an industrial Hoover (for grain in the tank or any crevice where it's hard to blow the grain out completely) or get an airline and remove grain, chaff and dust from as much of the combine as possible.

This will prevent vermin being attracted to the combine, where they can chew through electrical wires and cause serious damage. Most combines are fitted with a compressor these days.

nAir is by far the most preferable method of cleaning the internal parts of a combine over water. Air blows away any dust or chaff whereas while water will remove most of it, the remaining chaff will act like a sponge.

This retained moisture on a combine near any electrics or exposed parts of metal can deteriorate the machine over a prolonged period.

The exception to the water rule might be after harvesting peas or beans, when some farmers like to wash the machine.

nBe sure to check the condition of the straw elevator bars; wet, heavy material could have caused the crop to bend some of the bars.

Check the straw walker bearings as well. If you see a polished area on the shaft around the bearing, it indicates that the bearing is on its way out.

nDrum and concave -- check the concave wires for damage and also check the concave linkage, as this may have stretched from heavy wet material coming into the machine.

A simple way of doing this is to set the concave to 10mm and then measure the distance between the drum and the concave with a 10mm Allen key.

This will quickly show you how level the concave is or whether the linkages have stretched. Watch out for blocked concaves from mud and material bedded in from the wet harvest (a blocked concave will result in grain being carried out the back of the combine).

nYou can also run a straight edge over the concave to ensure it's not bent. Is the gap equal on both sides? On older machines, there may be a slight bow in the concave, but as long as it doesn't affect the combine's performance, this should be ok. If you need to change rasp bars, always change in pairs.

For example, change the opposite one to the one you are changing as well so that you don't upset the balance of the drum.

nCheck the grain pan and clean it if necessary, especially after harvesting oil seed rape. The grain pan on most combines can be accessed through the stone trap.

nCheck the unloading auger for a build-up of material on the flightings (this can place a lot pressure on the chains and the gearbox).

If the flightings are heavily caked, the only real option is to remove the entire auger and power-wash it. The unloading gearbox will have come under a lot of pressure from higher moisture crops.

nThis season combine operators reported that their returns system was running a lot higher than usual. The principle cause of this was the smaller, higher moisture grain and high amount of chaff in the system.

For this reason, check the bearings on the returns auger. If you see a polished area on the shaft around the bearing, it indicates that the bearing is on its way out.

nWatch out for wear around the knife and fingers; a blunt scissors is tough to cut with, so imagine what trying to keep 20ft of blunt knife oscillating is like on a wobble box. Failure to do this will shorten any combine's working life.

nIf you need to replace fingers, on most combines, beware that the gap for the knife on the first three fingers beside the wobble box is fractionally wider to allow for the fore and aft movement.

Put a normal finger in there and the knife will pinch. Be sure to consult with your dealer to check your particular situation.

nBefore going into storage, it's a good idea to fill the combine with diesel to prevent moisture build-up and condensation forming in the tank.

This will save a lot of hassle come start-up time next year. If you are using diesel with a high grade of bio diesel included, then there may be a case for using a biocide to prevent the build-up of black algae.

nThe straw chopper, if fitted, needs to get a look as well. When running the combine, check to see if there is any excess vibration coming from the chopper. Check the blades t o see if they need replacing -- but obviously only when the combine has been fully switched off.

nCheck tyre pressures. In particular, ensure tyres are not over- or under-inflated as this will put extra strain on the tyre wall. This can lead to blow-outs when the combine is sitting idle for the best part of 10 months.

nTo finish off, grease all bearings and apply some proper chain oil to any of the driving chains. Close the external panels and wash them down before putting the combine into storage for the winter.

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