Hidden Costs of Trading Equipment

Published on: 09:09AM Aug 04, 2008
 When Dad got a new planter, he drove the planter tractor to the dealership, dropped the pin in the new planter's hitch, hooked up one or two hydraulic hoses and went to the field. Last spring I helped a customer connect to his new planter, and it took the better part of a day and a lot of time studying tech books, scanning computer screens and installing extra pieces and parts to get his unit  ready to drive home.

That particular planter used 9 hydraulic hoses and four separate electrical connectors to raise, lower, fold, unfold, turn on, shut off and to monitor various functions. Each of the hydraulic hoses had to go to specific hydraulic couplers on the tractor. Two of the hoses required special couplers plumbed into specific ports on the main hydraulic valve block, different from the regular hydraulic couplers. Once all the couplers and connectors were in place, considerable time was spent in the cab calibrating various hydraulic functions with their controllers, and getting various computers and monitors to communicate as required. Then, once all the physical and computerized connections were in place, there was an hour or more spent teaching the customer how to use, understand, adjust and coordinate all the systems and their controls.

At one point, the customer looked at me in frustration and said, "All I want to do is go plant corn. I don't want to fly to the moon!"  

I feel his pain. Many modern planters, sprayers and combines actually have more computing capacity in their computers than did the Apollo space capsule that went to the moon. The machines can do amazing things when everything works, but getting them to work when trading equipment can be a major challenge.

So, when it's time to trade planters, combines and other equipment, be aware that:

-Big planters, drills and large seeding equipment demand huge amounts of hydraulic capacity. Older tractors (pre-2000) may not have the hydraulic pump capacity or enough hydraulic outlets to meet that demand.

-Each hydraulic hose from a planter or multifunction tillage tool has to go into a specific hydraulic coupler on the tractor, and that coupler must have the right flow and pressure capabilities. Plug a hydraulic motor return hose into the wrong coupler and you'll spend your planting season blowing seals out of hydraulic motors. Daisy-chain hydraulic systems rather than run individual systems to individual hydraulic couplers and none of the independent systems will work optimally

-Older combines (pre-2000) use analog electrical systems. Newer combines use digital electrical systems. It's best to use analog headers on analog combines, and digital headers on digital combines. There are adapters to make analog and digital systems compatible, but first-day-in-the-field is not the time to discover that your new combine won't work with your old grain platform's electrical system.

-Any system that includes any type of GPS, whether it is for swath control, yield mapping, or guidance will require at least one hour to program, calibrate and set up--if everything goes well and all systems are compatible. If you swap a GPS system/console/receiver from an old combine, planter or sprayer into a new combine, planter or sprayer, plan on taking a half day to get the right connectors, software downloads and calibrations installed so that things work correctly.

This isn't an indictment of technology that's available with modern equipment. GPS, autosteer, and all the other gee-whiz technology can save tons of money, reduce stress on operators and provide invaluable information. But their benefits come at a cost. Trading equipment is no longer a matter of simply dropping in a drawbar pin and heading to the field.