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May 2013 Archive for In the Shop

RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.

Clarification On Pinch-Row-Compaction

May 25, 2013

 In  my previous post I mentioned pinch-row-compaction as a factor when considering whether to buy a center-fill planter, or a planter with an individual seed hopper on each row. I need to clarify some comments I made.

When I said that compaction between the center six rows on each pass of a planter could cause yield reductions of 20 to 30 bushels per acre within those six rows, it's important to note that the amount of yield reduction is dependent on soil type and moisture content of the soil. Not every pass with a big tractor pulling a center-fill planter will see major yield reductions in the center rows. If fields are dry, there may be minimal compaction and yields may fluctuate only slightly across the width of each planter pass.

But if soils are damp or easily compacted, it has been documented that yields in those center six rows can be reduced significantly because of damaged soil structure. The damage is due to reduced pore space that decrease oxygen availablity to roots, inability for moisture to move within the soil, and decreased root growth due to all those factors.

Don't blame center-fill planters alone for pinch-row compaction. Some tests indicate up to 80 percent of the damage is due to the tractor that pulls the planter. Center-fill planters just add to the existing problem.

If you don't believe that tractor weight/compaction is the main culprit for pinch-row compaction, just notice the yellow, stunted corn that's struggling to emerge in the wheel tracks left by tractors pulling field cultivators at an angle across wet soils this spring. It's impossible to document how much yield is lost in the diagonal wheel tracks left by tillage tractors, but if pinch-row compaction behind the planter cuts yields in wheel tracks by up to 30 bu/ac,, it only makes sense that field cultivator tracks do similar damage. 

But in a late, wet spring, what other options do you have?

Next Year's Planters

May 23, 2013

 I'm not in marketing or sales, but a lot of farmers wander through the shop and ask questions of mechanics before they buy a new planter. This spring's funky weather has definitely increased the interest of farmers in upgrading the size and efficiency of their seeding equipment. From recent conversations, here are some of the hot trends for NEXT year's planting season:

-bigger planters. Farmers want the option to get everything planted in five to ten "good" days, allowing them to wait one or two extra days and avoid planting in overly wet soil. Ten days used to be adequate; now I'm hearing a lot of guys saying they want to be able to start and end their corn planting in five days if they need to.

-autosteer. It's more than just straight rows. Autosteer adds two, four, maybe six hours of planting time to a day. A lot of guys went round-the-clock this spring, thanks to autosteer. It's hard to explain how autosteer increases productivity until you try it, because it goes way beyond steering and reduces back aches, shoulder aches and makes it "comfortable" to be in the cab for endless hours.

-enhanced seed metering. Mainline planter manufacturers have had their feet held to the fire by aftermarket manufacturers. "Seed meter wars" are being waged, and farmers are the benefactors. Seeding accuracy with both factory and aftermarket seeding systems is greatly improved over just 10 years ago. If you're not using the improved designs, you're missing the opportunity to improve seeding accuracy.

-pinch-row-compaction. The idea that the tractor, and especially center-fill planters, create yield-reducing compaction between the six center rows of each pass has been well-documented. Wet springs like this year really decrease yields in those rows---up to 20 to 30 bu/ac. on each pass within those rows. Much of the damage is from the weight of the tractor but center-fill planters seem to add to the problem in some cases. Some farmers are going back to planters with individual hoppers on each row. Some planter manufacturers offer weight transfer systems that distribute the weight of the center seed hopper evenly across the entire planter. Bigger, heavier center-fill planters actually reduce total yield reductions--do the math, and the six rows behind a 12-row planter result in half a field being influenced by pinch-row-compaction, while only one-fourth of the rows and acres behind a 24-row planter are exposed to pinch-row-compaction.

-gadgets. There are lots of interesting gadgets and systems that can be added to planters. Some offer significant improvements to planting accuracy and the "adjustability" of row cleaners, down pressure systems, and other planter functions. Few of the add-ons are cheap. Whether they increase yields enough to offset their cost is yet to be determined. Four-dollar corn this fall would go a long way toward determining how many planters get upgraded to those cutting-edge systems this winter.

"Blind" Planters

May 19, 2013

 I've run into this problem four times in the past two weeks, so I thought I'd mention it:

If the vision of your planter's seed monitor system suddenly is no longer 20/20 (hint, hint) and you have one section or the entire planter's seed tube sensors go off-line, be suspicious of a cut, crimped, pinched or damaged sensor wire to one of the row unit seed sensors.

Twice I found a seed tube sensor wire had been pinched by the parallel arms that support the planter unit. Once I found the sensor wires had been zip-tied to the cross-tube just ahead of the row unit's seed box, and as the unit was raised and lowered the sensor wire sawed back and forth between the zip-tie and the tube and eventually wore through the wire's insulation and shorted out. The fourth "blind" planter was due to one row's seed tube sensor wiring harness connector getting crushed in a down-pressure bracket.

In two of those situations, when the wires shorted the control box that gave the system 20/20 vision was damaged by the electrical mishap and had to be replaced. The other two times the control box survived, and simply splicing the damaged wires fixed the problem.

As always, these are one man's experiences, based upon four separate cases over a two-week period. Take it for what it's worth. If it helps diagnose a problem and gets you back to planting--cool!

Parts Info In The Palm of Your Hands

May 12, 2013

 Cool news for some of you, related to my previous post about using cell phones/smart phones to take pictures of farm equipment to help identify parts needed for repairs.

Rodney S., one of our regular readers, let me know that there is a smart phone app called "Case IH My Shed" that allows red equipment owners to enter their equipment into the app so that when each piece of equipment is accessed, submenus with filters, decals, frames and factory-installed parts pops up. A pop-out menu provides exploded diagrams with detailed parts numbers. Kris says once you identify the part you need you can order it online, specify which dealer to send it to, or tap the screen and have the phone dial your local dealers to see if the part is in stock. Cool!

Rodney also mentioned an aspect of that app that I use frequently on the laptop I carry in my service truck. Many times when reassembling equipment, it's more understandable for me to reference a blown-up parts diagram to see how pieces are supposed to fit together than it is to use the "repair" manual for that machine. So, if you forget which side of the assembly a washer goes on, or whether a certain bolt should be head-in or head-out, this app gives you access to a blown-up diagram with answers to your reassembly questions.

Sadly, that's only if you're working on red equipment.  If any of you know of similar apps for equipment of other colors, let me know and I'll pass it on.

Cell Phones, Mis-Used

May 09, 2013

 I'm going to refine a suggestion I made a while back in one of my blogs. I suggested that it would be useful when repairing machinery to take a cell phone photo of the part in question, so you could show it to the person at the parts counter.

That has created problems. Some folks assume that a photo is worth a thousand words, and now simply hand their cell phone to the parts person and say, 'Gimme that part." 

To help maintain the sanity of parts people across the country:

-The first photo should be of the machine's model number. The second photo should be a close-up of the serial number plate, with serial numbers clearly legible. 

-Then take a series of photos, starting at a distance before ending with a close-up of the part in question. That will help the parts person identify where on the machine the part is located. 

-Take time to look at the piece in question. Understand what it does on the machine, decipher how it is broken or why it isn't working correctly. There is an disturbing trend for folks to just take a cell phone photo and then hand their phone to the parts person at the local dealership with the assumption that everything the parts person needs is in that one, tiny 2-inch by 3-inch digitized photo. 

Cell phone photos can be an immense aid in helping get the right parts efficiently. Or, they can make things worse because the person with the cell phone photo has no information aside from that one photo to help the parts person get the right parts.

If you're technologically sophisticated, figure out how to use your smart phone or iPad to access the internet, look up a parts diagram of the machine you're working on, and point to the specific part you need on that image. It will have the specific part number right there, and all the parts person has to do is type in the number to see if they have it in stock.

Be forewarned: providing a parts person the exact parts number of a piece that you want risks having that person come over the counter and give you a kiss of gratitude.

A Mechanic's Commencement Comments

May 01, 2013

 I'm not especially comfortable speaking in front of crowds, but wouldn't be ashamed to hand out printed cards with the following advice to this year's graduating class. Some of the advice is related to fixing mechanical things, some of the advice is about life in general, and some of it could go either way.

-"Economical" and "cheap" are not the same when it comes to buying tools.

-If a hydraulic leak stops, it's not because the leak magically fixed itself and everything is now "okay." It's because the reservoir ran out of oil.

-In the mind of a customer, one botched repair erases the memories of 25 successful repairs.

-Smoke from electrical wiring or electrical components is never a good thing.

-The wrench you lose or break this morning is the one you'll need this afternoon.

-Never look at your thumb while swinging a hammer.

-"Fixed" and "fixed right" are not always the same thing.

-Promise less than you deliver. Deliver more than you promise.

-Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.

-If you have to borrow a specific tool more than four times in a year, buy your own.

-When working on large equipment, never work under anyone who chews tobacco.

-Understand the difference between working for a friend and working with a friend.

-There is a difference between a job, a career and a hobby. Understand why you do each and don't mistake one for the other.

-Don't expect to toot the whistle if you were hired to shovel coal.

-You can always re-do repairs because machinery doesn't remember. It doesn't work that way with family members, spouses, friends, bosses and customers. 

-If you're the one who toots the whistle, remember that somewhere, somebody is shoveling coal to allow you to do that.

-Never say "never." Unless it's in regard to ethical or moral questions, and then have personal standards about when to say it.  

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