As we get reacquainted with the new year’s snowflakes and flurries, we find ourselves at a time when soil planning and preparation begins. There are plenty of factors to consider in the midst of a crop development. However, before Mother Nature plays her part to melt the sheets of winter into the spring, now is a good time to check on another item: your tillage equipment.

It’s easy to get lost in the hustle of preparing your soil for the coming year. Most upkeep for your equipment should be minor, but we all know life gets busy. Beware – pushing the small fixes off to the side can cause things to pile up quickly. It’s never too late for maintenance.

Work your plan

Things are always working smoothly when you purchase your new piece of equipment. Keeping up with the normal wear and tear is another story. Timely checks are essential to equipment success. Your tillage equipment – on average – are the workhorses of your agriculture arsenal.

“Regular maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations is extremely important to correct and efficient operation,” Gary Wallander of Landoll Corporation/Brillion Farm Equipment, said.

As with any plan, to succeed, Brian Perkuhn, vice president of sales for Summers Mfg., said, you have to keep a good maintenance schedule.

“It’s best to check all the equipment not only daily but annually to thoroughly go through it,” he said. “End of year is a usually good time. That way it is fresh in your mind, and (you can) make the repairs before the next season.”

By working on regular maintenance during the offseason, you’re able to save time and money. In their essay, “Tillage equipment maintenance,” Mark Hanna, Mahdi Al-Kaisi and Michael Tidman of the Iowa State University Extension suggested taking the approach of the noted “Iron Lady,” former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.

“This spring, instead of just heading to the field, make more informed tillage decisions… Be diligent about the quality of your equipment,” they said. “It will pay off in the long run in terms of efficient use of time, reduced soil erosion, operator safety, and possibly, better yields from more uniform tillage operations.”

Photo: FotoVSmirnov/istock

Cover all bases

Repairs are inevitable with any type of machinery. A good rule of thumb is to prepare for the worst.

“The main causes of failure and/or breakdown of tillage equipment can be multi-faceted,” Wallander said. “Usual causes can be tracked to wear and tear, using for practices above and beyond the machine’s design, out of adjustment, too much/too little horsepower, operating too fast or too slow, or a combination of the above.”

One of the most important things to check are your soil-engaging components. Extreme neglect of these items can ensure more fuel usage due to an increase in draft from pushing dull blades in soil, for instance.

“Ground-engaging tools are very important to take care of: disc blades, ripper joints and shanks,” Perkuhn said. “You have to make sure the shanks are in good condition. They get the job done that’s needed.”

Also important with soil-engaging parts is the alignment condition. Keeping things level also plays a part in saving fuel as well as wear and tear. It’s best to have the tillage tool attachment even from side to side and front and back. This will provide consistency when operating the soil. In addition, measure the distance from the blade to the soil to check the alignment. An advantage of having scheduled maintenance repairs in the offseason is that you’ll keep a better eye on any component issues, thus your downtime for repairs isn’t too detrimental.

Other maintenance boils down to simple inspection. Make sure to remove any type of dirt or other foreign objects from your bearings and lubricate them according to your owner’s manual. Also, closely monitor other parts such as hydraulic hoses, couplings, cylinders, etc., for tears and damage as well as absent connecting screws, nuts and/or bolts.

Photo: SimplyCreativePhotography/istock

Till the wheels fall off

Another aspect of maintenance is knowing when it’s time for a new tillage extension. According to most studies, the average piece of tillage equipment can give a farmer approximately 2,000 hours of use. Throughout that time, things change such as crop management plans, labor personnel, along with Mother Nature’s mood swings. When the time arrives to purchase your new device, reevaluation is in order.

“Producers in the market for tillage equipment need to always consider their final expectations in the buying process,” Wallander said. “Make sure the machine is capable of doing what is expected. Also take into consideration the selling dealer, brand reputation and other user comments.”

While Wallander noted that inspection of the equipment and relationship of the dealer is an important process of purchasing tillage equipment, he also stated the type of system used is extremely vital in choosing the right item.

“The list of advantages either pro or con with tillage/no-tillage is a long list. There are opinions both for and against each method,” he said. “My suggestion to producers who are looking for ideas, is to contact other producers who are using either of the methods and hear them out. Both methods have their good and bad.”

There are different types of systems that suit any type of grower. Ultimately, the main factor to consider is the farmer’s desired outcome, Perkuhn said.

“What you are shooting for is to build soil health, and there’s equipment out there for that,” he said. “The questions to ask are, ‘What does the soil need?’ and ‘What will help me build the most organic matter within that soil to absorb the water and the nutrients I’m resupplying the plants that are growing?'”

Although certain systems have their advantages, it’s still a constant, ongoing puzzle for producers to find the perfect soil management plan and for tillage equipment manufacturers to solve.

“For most farmers across the country, the needs are kind of the same. However, it varies where you are located concerning the soil types,” Perkuhn said. “The soil types may change to the point where you need tillage on one side of the farm and no tillage on the other. It’s a continuous battle as a manufacturer as well as to find the piece that fits that spectrum.”