Harvest is when many farmers find themselves at the mercy of factors outside their control, but combine breakdowns are not among the uncontrollable.
To avoid losing time and money mid-harvest due to a frustrating combine breakdown, you'll want to start by paying attention to your machinery.
“Watch for any subtle changes in sound, smell, look and feel,” says Charles Ellis, University of Missouri associate Extension professional and natural resources engineer. “Be observant and error on the side of caution.”
After all, during harvest, you know your combine better than anyone. Use that knowledge to your advantage, taking note of changes and what they could indicate.
• Keep your eyes open, even in auto steer cabs where it’s easy to get distracted. First, watch for changes in crop conditions. If you are seeing more green stems, more down crop or other situations that require combine adjustments, be prepared to slow down, change reel speed or adjust the position of the head. Keep an eye on your monitors to check for pressure changes, sudden yield changes and other sensors that indicate a problem. Finally, watch your end product: grain. If you are seeing more shattering, chaff or other value-reducing problems, take time to make appropriate adjustments or find the root of the issue.
• Changes in smell could indicate you have a plug or a drag on the combine. This can lead to faster wear on belts, bearings and chains. If you smell burning or rubbing, address it immediately to prevent a possible fire on the machine that could spread to the field. Other smells could indicate fuel and other fluid leaks. “Conditions of dry, low humidity bring an increased risk of fire from heat buildup,” Ellis says.
• Listen for changes in the way your machine sounds. Changes can indicate a number of problems or potential issues that need to be resolved quickly. For more detailed information about what each pop, click and boom could mean, see Dan Anderson’s advice.
• When you’re driving, feel for changes in the way the combine is working. If it feels like it’s working harder, there’s a hiccup or any other differences it could indicate a bigger problem. If your combine feels abnormal, you could have a clog, missing or broken belt or chain among other possible causes.
“Preparation for harvest starts at the end of last harvest,” says Edwin Brokesh, Kansas State University Extension engineer and instructor for biology and agricultural engineering. “Document problems, and fix them over the winter season. Check in-season every day.”
You can also prevent such problems through a daily inspection.
Such an inspection doesn’t have to take time away from harvest. Instead, use your down time to your advantage. When it's still too wet in the morning to get started or while you're waiting for a grain truck in the field, take just 30 minutes or fewer to look over your machine.
A few items to check off your list during your daily inspection include: check fluid levels, walk around the combine and look for drips on the ground or machine, examine visible belts and chains for wear or breakage, glance inside sieves, inspect the head for anything out of place or missing and finally, on a weekly basis open inspection doors and study the inside like chains for gather, feeding and elevating crop materials to make sure they haven’t gotten loose, says Brokesh. “If you are familiar with the machine you should notice issues during the walk around. Bring a notepad, and keep it in the combine.”
Recognizing a problem isn’t all you need to do. Make sure you write issues down so they can be addressed during winter or down time. This will help you prioritize what should be fixed first to keep the combine in stellar condition. And remember, when you recognize an issue while running the combine, it’s good to write it down, but don’t keep running if it will make the problem worse.
“Getting that extra 20 to 30 minutes of harvest could cost you more time and money,” reminds Ellis. The better choice? Address combine breakdowns or problems in a timely way, whether that means when the problem happens or during the winter's downtime.
How do you maintain your combine during harvest? Share your advice--or lessons learned--in the comments.