The dust has settled on harvest 2015, and now is a good time to take stock of your combine's condition. This is done primarily with a view to making a decision on whether to change/upgrade the combine, or keep it for another season. For reasons of force majeure, the latter option will be the route taken by most readers due to the only average grain prices on offer this year.
How do you decide whether a combine needs replacing or if it can give another year trouble-free service?
This is a critical question but one that is best asked now rather than in the middle of the harvest. Ask yourself the hard and straight questions. Are the repairs needed due to routine servicing? Are they for wear and tear items? Are they as a result of operator accidents rather than a machine fault? And how much will they all cost to repair?
Good records indicate whether a machine has had above or below average repair costs and are a crucial tool in allowing you to make the decision to keep or sell the combine.
The best prediction of how a machine will perform in the future can perhaps be most sensibly based on how well it has been looked after during its working life to date.
A combine that gets a thorough cleaning before going into winter storage and that benefits from a proper service each year is going to last the distance. Compare this to the neglected machine that sits in a shed over winter full of last season's chaff and grain, and you begin to get the idea. It is the well looked after combine that will last an extra season or two.
In a year like this when good yields didn't equate to good margin, gleaning an extra season from your existing combine will make a big difference to your bank account.
Having decided to keep your existing machine for another year, next comes the hard work. The all-too tempting option of parking the combine up for the winter without giving it a proper clean will lead to serious electrical problems come next harvest, as vermin eat through wires and plastic to access grain and chaff.
Dealers report horror stories each year about contractors and farmers spending €300,000 on a new combine only to not even bother cleaning it thoroughly when the harvest finishes.
The moral of the story is to pull out the air compressor when the harvest is done and give the combine a good cleaning to blow out any debris capable of attracting vermin.
Most combines are fitted with an inbuilt compressor these days, but if your machine doesn't have one a basic compressor is a fantastic (and inexpensive) tool to invest in on any farm.
Oil and crop residue
Before parking up the combine for winter take a day to power-wash it thoroughly. This will remove caked-on grease, oil and crop residue. Blow away any chaff, leaves and other crop materials from the machine built up as a result of a hard season's work.
If possible, and where security on the farm is good, fill your combine's diesel tank to capacity. This will prevent condensation being allowed to form on the inside walls of the fuel tank, thereby avoiding fuel trouble when it comes to harvest time next year.
It's a good idea, too, to remove any crop residue that has become wrapped around bearings, belts and other moving parts because these can generate significant heat after a few hours working when next year's action starts.
Specific areas to blow out include:
• The engine - especially the exhaust manifold, turbocharger, muffler and exhaust pipe
• Hydrostatic pump, motor, hydraulic lines and tubes
• Brake and transmission housings
• Electrical components
• Engine drives and all moving parts
• Batteries and battery cables
• Straw chopper drive gear compartments
Worn bearings and belts are two big culprits that can easily generate enough heat to make dust and crop residue catch fire. Take advantage of cheaper out-of-season servicing offers being quoted by farm machinery dealers and get the new parts on board now rather than next year when the panic hits.
Document the problems, make repairs as necessary and sign off on them as they are corrected so that you can keep on top of running costs.
Is the fire extinguisher serviced and good to go, or has it been used or damaged during this season?
Always keep at least one fully charged and certified dry chemical fire extinguisher in the combine cab. Ideally you want to mount a second fire extinguisher on the outside of the machine that can be reached from ground level.
The header is obviously a very important part of the combine and contains a lot of moving parts. After the tough 2015 season look for any serious damage to the knives, skids or fingers. Get your dealer to replace these as necessary, or, if doing your own maintenance, take note of manufacturers guidelines and order them in as required.
The wobble box should get a full inspection at your local dealer or in your own garage. A wobble box working for around 200 hours per season will generally last for anything from eight to 10 years depending on the operator.
On some older or second-hand combines the feeder house chains sit on pieces of timber that look similar to roof slats.
Over time, the chains can wear into these timbers with the result being the chains can slacken. As well as monitoring the chains for slackness, the timbers themselves will need to be replaced periodically so keep a close eye on them. Watch out for broken or bent chain reels on the intake as well.
Check belt tensions for wear and tear. How do you know if a belt is slack?
First of all, switch off the engine if you are doing any hand inspections. You should only be able to get half a twist by hand on a belt that is properly tensioned.
If you can twist a belt all the way around, 360 degrees, it needs to be tensioned to prevent excessive wearing and subsequent replacement cost.
Improving your ground flotation
Finally, for combine owners who have gotten fed up of getting bogged down in wet ground, now is the time of year to take action. The extent to which you want to improve flotation depends on what you are willing to spend. Simple steps such as reducing ground pressure and fitting bigger tyres or wheel rims don't cost a lot of money and can be done in little time.
A more comprehensive step such as retrofitting four-wheel drive to a combine requires considerable investment, but I know some operators who say it was money well spent.