Sep 30, 2014
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March 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.

More Planter Tips

Mar 30, 2013

 Our dealership held its annual planter clinics last week. It was an opportunity to compare notes with not only mechanics from our other stores, but from farmers who are on the front lines of the annual battle to plant their crop quickly AND accurately. Here are a few tidbits that seemed of special interest to those who attended:

-Smooth seedbeds improve seed placement in the furrow. If it's possible when field cultivating ahead of a planter to run that field cultivator parallel with the way the planter will run, it reduces "hop" of the seed units as they move over the grooves left by field cultivator sweeps and tine levelers. GPS guidance or autosteer makes this possible even in dry soil conditions, when a disk marker's furrow would be lost in the field cultivator's ridges and furrows.

-On certain brands of planters that have small, rocking agitators at the bottom of their central fill seed hoppers, those agitators are in motion any time the planter is lowered and the tank pressurizing fan is running. If those agitators and the tank's pressurizer fan are left running for extended periods of non-planting (over lunch, during repairs, etc.) the constant supply of air pressure and the constant agitation of the seed can lead to severe plugging of the seed delivery tubes. It's best to shut down the tank pressurizer fan and agitator if the planter won't actually be planting for more than 5 or 10 minutes.

-Unless there are OBVIOUS mechanical reasons to route hydraulic hoses and electrical harnesses otherwise, run them on the bottom side of 3-point quick-tach frames. Use a rubber tarp strap to dangle them from the upper cross frame. If you farm in hilly country, consider removing the top hook from the center of the quick-tach frame. When going through gullies or draws the planter and tractor can get at enough angle to each other so that hook can snag the hoses and harnesses running from the front of the planter, and rip them asunder. I say "asunder" because the resulting mess of broken hydraulic hoses and frayed electrical wires is a problem of Biblical proportions.

-There seems to be an advantage to using a blend of talc and graphite in central fill planters that use vacuum seed metering. 80 percent talc, 20 percent graphite. Talc controls clumping due to humidity, graphite improves lubrication and reduces problems with static electricity build-up in seed delivery tubes. 

-And this social media tip, overheard from two young farmers whispering at the back of the meeting: Don't post anything on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social media sites that you don't want your old man--or mother--to know about or see. No matter how bored you get sitting in the tractor while the autosteer does the work. Us older folks are apparently getting pretty "hip" to this smartphone technology...but we still have a relatively dim parental sense of humor about our children's activities.

Truck Axle Seals Made Easier

Mar 17, 2013

 Removing axle seals from truck hubs, or from large drivetrain components on tractors, combines and other large equipment, is annoying. It's a simple concept complicated by the sheer size and weight of the components. 

A lot of large axle seals get removed by amateur (and professional) mechanics using a large punch to reach through the hub from the backside to drive out the seal. It takes a long, long punch, it's clumsy due to the size and thickness of the hub, and there's risk that the tip of the punch will mar the hub during the process. I've also used a long pry bar or crowbar to pry seals from hubs---and risked similar damage to the hub. 

Improvised tools often lead to collateral damage. I've learned that frustration, impatience and escalating violence often magnify the damage related to the use of improvised tools. There also seems to be a parallel increase in the incidence of busted knuckles, bloody fingers and other bandage-worthy injuries related to the use of improvised tools, but...that's a topic for a future blog.

Fortunately, tool manufacturers make a number of special tools to speed and simplify removal of large seals. Most are designed to hook the seal and pry it out of the hub, reducing the chances of marring the hub where the seal seats. You can do a Google search for the following tools to visualize what I'm talking about. An OTC 4508 seal removal tool works well for most automotive projects, and last week it was adequate for me to remove a large semi-truck seal. Different manufacturers offer that design of tool with various size heads and with handles of different lengths. Depending on size and durability, that sort of seal removal tool sells for $10 to $40.

If I worked in a truck shop and frequently removed big seals from big hubs or housings, I think I'd invest in something like an OTC 5058 seal remover. It's got a big, sturdy head with a 3-foot-long handle to provide lots of leverage. But I'd have to remove a lot of seals to justify its retail price of $110 to $140.

Of course, $140 is considerably less than the cost of a visit to the emergency room for stitches, or the cost of replacing an entire hub because somebody's improvised tool didn't work exactly as hoped for.


Last Year's Drought Could Affect Your Planter This Spring

Mar 13, 2013

 This could be a false alarm, but there are emails and text messages zipping all across corn and soybean country expressing concern that seed grown during last year's drought may create issues for planter seed meters this spring.

Apparently some of the drought seed is larger than usual, or misshapen, and there are concerns that some seed meters or seeding systems may need to be tweaked to do an optimum job planting them. 

I've heard concerns that some corn and soybean seeds are going to be extra big, and in some cases require different or altered seed disks. Finger units may have to be run on test stands to ensure they're adjusted to easily handle the bigger seeds. I've also heard that there may be situations where the larger seeds will require higher vacuum settings on air planters. One email I received suggested larger seeds could require settings in excess of 20 inches of vacuum. That could be a big issue for older planters with vacuum systems that aren't designed to produce much beyond 18 inches of vacuum. Or older tractors that don't have the hydraulic volume to create that much hydraulic flow to multiple vacuum motors on larger planters.

This is all sort of developing as the seed for this year's planting starts to arrive at local dealers. It may not be a big issue; it could be a BIG issue. Your local seed dealer should have by now an idea of what seeds he's going to have available, and should be able to help you decide if your planter needs special attention before you head to the field.

Hot Rod Planter Units

Mar 09, 2013

 Remember, folks, this blog is one man's opinion based on one man's experiences and observations.

Having said that, here's my view on the advantages and disadvantages of "hot rodding" planter seed meters: the seed meters that come with ANY brand of modern planter do a pretty darned good job of metering and planting seed. Put them on a test stand, and if a meter doesn't plant 95 to 98 percent of the target population, something is wrong with the meter--generally something that can be fixed or adjusted. The unit may have skips or doubles as it reaches that target population, but most of those skips and doubles can be eliminated with adjustment. Remember--you can alternate skips and doubles every other drop but still achieve target population. Simply achieving target population isn't good enough any more. The Holy Grail of planting is now target population WITHOUT any skips or doubles.

Factory seed meters do a good job under ideal conditions. But when they're bouncing through a rough, cloddy field at 6.5 mph, planting ungraded or poorly graded seed, that's when planting accuracy takes a dive. If you ever have opportunity to watch a seed meter test stand in operation, while the machine is running on graded seed, pour in some ungraded seed, then kick or shake the test stand to simulate a rough field. Metering accuracy drops as seed grading quality and "ride" quality diminish.

Farmers can do a lot about ride quality. Smoother seedbeds, row cleaners that smooth the soil immediately in front of planter units, and ground speeds in the 4.8 to 5.5 mph range can easily improve seed meter performance by 5 percent without changing anything on the meter itself. 

The question that's been growing across the country for the past decade is whether or not there's a benefit to hot rodding seed meters. The theory is if a farmer replaces this component, tweaks that component and tightens this while loosening that, he can create a super seed meter.

Having run a few meters on a fairly sophisticated test stand, here's what I've observed. Any seed meter can do a good job with good seed and a good seedbed if the meter is properly set and properly operated. Ten years ago a farmer would have been delighted with the results.

Hot rodding seed meters, whether using the mainline manufacturer's hot rod parts, or using an aftermarket manufacturer's parts, can get seed meters pretty darned close to perfection with someone standing there adjusting vacuum and speed and other variables. If a farmer is willing to consistently monitor and tweak ground speed, vacuum, talc/graphite and other variables to match seed grading, seed size, the condition of the seedbed and other variables, then it's possible to plant corn with near-perfect seeding rates and spacing if he uses a hot-rodded seed meter.

But all that time and money invested in creating "perfect" seed meters goes out the window when planting is delayed, soil conditions are "rough" or the seed being planted is radically different from what the meter was calibrated for. Or if the seed only has 95 percent germination. I've dug in a lot of emerged corn fields, trying to determine why "the planter wasn't planting right," and discovered that the skips and gaps were from ungerminated seeds, seeds that sprouted and died, seeds that got ate by seed maggots, or other reasons that weren't the fault of the planter.

Bottom line of this man's opinion: modern planter seed meters, properly maintained and adjusted work darn good. Hot-rodded seed meters, whether hot-rodded with mainline manufacturer parts or aftermarket parts, take seed metering to near perfection--IF field conditions, operating speed, seed quality and the REST of the planter (chains, bearings, driveshafts, etc.) create an operating environment as near perfect as a seed meter test stand operating in somebody's shop.

Wasting Good Seed

Mar 04, 2013

 As we've become adept at getting planters to plant almost perfectly, we're learning that even the best-prepared planter with the latest seeding gadgetry won't produce a perfect final stand if the field cultivator, field conditioner or disk leaves a lousy seedbed. 

Last spring I fought a planter that refused to plant at a consistent depth. The customer was planting into the previous year's soybean stubble that had been field cultivated once to incorporate herbicide. He had applied anhydrous the previous fall. It wasn't until I kneeled to dig my umpteenth check strip to check seed depth that I noticed one of my knees was sitting on top of the ground, and the other was sunk almost 6 inches into soft soil. We eventually determined that the anhydrous knife strips, which ran at a slight angle to the new corn rows, were significantly more mellow than the ground between them. Every time  a planter unit crossed an anhydrous strip, it buried itself in the mellow soil and planted seeds up to two inches deeper than other units riding on firmer ground between the anhydrous strips. There was nothing the farmer could do to resolve the situation, unless he wanted to re-work the field one or more times to firm up the soil and "fill" the softer anhydrous strips.

Another field for another customer looked like a dream seedbed. His vertical tillage tool used rolling baskets and the seedbed ahead of the planter was as smooth as a pool table. I had reason to literally ride on the planter to check some adjustments while it was rolling through the field, and I think I was bouncing less on the planter than the farmer was sitting in the cab--smoothest seedbed I've ever seen. I was really impressed until after the planter stopped and I stepped on a gauge wheel as I dismounted the planter. The gauge wheel spun, indicating it wasn't touching the ground. Neither were half the other gauge wheels on the planter, even though the planter was lowered and the farmer had a fair amount of down pressure on the row units. Long story short, the no-till field was as hard as pavement, and we had to crank up down pressure to max levels just to get the disk openers to cut full-depth seed furrows. And then we had a tough time getting enough down pressure on the closing wheels to close the slots we'd carved in the "pavement."

I watched both fields all summer, and they looked pretty uneven throughout the growing season. Having been there at planting and done a lot of digging in both fields, I knew the planters had done their jobs well. The problem was in the way the seedbeds were (or weren't) prepared. This year I'm going to pay more attention during my service calls to take note of the condition of seedbeds. The next step toward getting a "picket fence" final stand may have nothing to do with the planter itself.

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