If you take time now to list the repairs your combine needs for next harvest, you can spend the winter shopping for cheap parts and doing the repairs when downtime is not so costly

Our neighbour needed a new tire for his combine a few years back. He looked around and found a whole combine with good tires for the price of one new tire.

“ What the heck’s wrong now?” you say to yourself. The combine has just made an odd bang, clatter or crunch (pick the appropriate noise) and then stops doing what it’s supposed to do. You look in the hopper and instead of good No. 1 grain coming in, you have all chaff and straw or nothing at all.

Then you find out the cause is one of those things you knew was a problem but you hoped it wouldn’t bother you for a while. Were you thinking that perhaps it magically healed itself overnight? Or that the good fairy slipped into the yard last winter and patched up that weak link? Don’t be embarrassed. It happens to all farmers. Well, maybe not the farmers with new equipment. But anyone with old equipment will have parts that are inconsiderate enough to break when you need them. They never break at the end of harvest or just before a rainy spell, which would be much more convenient.

So how can you do it better next year? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

ANALYZE WHAT WENT WRONG THIS YEAR

Make a quick list of the breakdowns you had this harvest and how much delay each one caused. Then divide them into three groups. In group one, put the ones that you knew were weak or damaged before harvest but didn’t get around to fixing. Remember that cracked belt that was tough to change so you thought it would be okay? In group two, put the ones that you might have caught if you really looked hard for them. Think of the worn gear on the shaft that is really hard to see but if you had seen it was loose you could have fixed it. In group three, put the unexpected breakdowns. Example: The water pump that just flew apart on us three days before harvest’s end. It wasn’t leaking, but just like that it was in pieces and five gallons (or was it 20 litres?) of antifreeze were all over the place. I managed to take a picture of the ungrateful piece on metal for your viewing pleasure.

ADD UP THE DELAY TIME

Add up all the downtime related to the group one repairs and half the time for the group two breakdowns. This is the amount of time that you could likely have saved in harvest if you had fixed those parts before harvest. If the number is low, congrats on your good preparation. If the number is high, better luck next year. In our case, we had 17 hours of group one delays, 13 hours of group two delays and 24 hours of group three delays. Using the above highly scientific formula, we lost 23.5 hours of combining due to preventable delays. We’ll try for better next year.

5 TIPS TO REDUCE DOWNTIME NEXT HARVEST

Here’s what you can do now to speed along the repair process for next harvest:

1. Before you put away the combines, check them over and make a list of the repairs needed before next harvest. Put the list where you can find it when fixing time comes around.

2. Go through the list and mark them A for “top priority,” B for “should get done,” and C for “this would be nice to do.” Make this list now so you can be scouting out parts and repairs over the winter.

3. If your combine is old and cheap — like ours — buy another old combine for parts. Our neighbour needed a new tire for his combine a few years back. He looked around and found a whole combine with good tires for the price of one new tire. He bought the combine and had his tire and lots of spare parts as well. This year we were saved at least six times by the parts from our parts combines. Also we didn’t have to drive farther than our yard for the parts.

4. If you’re traveling the auction circuit, look for auctions that have combines like yours. Often there are a few spare parts on the racks that go for next to nothing. Bring your list of parts and repairs that you need so you’ll know what to buy.

5. Make sure you have an owner’s manual for the combine so that you know all the lube points and adjustments. It’s also nice to have a repair manual. You can get these from the dealer or perhaps you can find them used. I’ve bought several manuals on eBbay at a reasonable price.

Hopefully this will give you some thoughts on pre harvest machinery preparation for next year.

Ron Settler farms and runs a salvage and used parts yard at Lucky Lake, Sask.

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