Efficiency is likely to be more important this seeding season than ever for many Alberta farmers.
To squeeze as many acres into the tight seeding window as possible, the temptation is to jack up travel speed and many wonder if they should invest in higher-tech equipment.
Those farmers will be looking in the wrong direction to improve efficiency, say equipment experts. The single biggest factor that will make or break one’s ability to seed quickly and effectively is equipment maintenance.
“The biggest challenge during seeding is the unknown — and that’s generally an equipment breakdown,” said Trent Meyer, executive vice-president at SeedMaster. “You can’t take off a good crop unless you seed it. In order to seed it you have to have equipment that is operational. Any equipment, even old equipment, can be reliable if it’s well maintained. Unfortunately, you don’t realize how important maintenance is until you really need it.”
In a typical year, farmers have about four weeks to complete seeding. That seeding window often feels tight, but four weeks is usually enough time. This year, however, the seeding window may become uncomfortably constricted for many.
“In a year like this, any equipment breakdown will be a big, big deal,” said Meyer. “If you’re operating older equipment, your dealer might not have replacement parts on hand, so waiting for a part to come in can set you back extra days. It’s at times like this that not having your equipment well maintained going into the season can really increase stress levels.”
Ideally, routine maintenance should happen immediately after seeding, before machinery is put away.
“Unfortunately, let’s face it — no one wants to hear about drill maintenance when it’s time to get on the sprayer,” said Meyer. “But post-seeding is definitely the best time of year to do maintenance, because parts are the cheapest and you can still remember what worked and what didn’t work during seeding.”
“I’d say most producers don’t do enough post-seeding equipment maintenance,” added Chris Bettschen, international business manager for Seed Hawk. “If it’s been a challenging year for seeding, they usually just want to walk away from the seeder and decompress, or jump on the next piece of equipment and get on with the next job. Farms are busy places: routine maintenance doesn’t always get done when it should.”
Everyone should pull their seeding equipment out of storage at least a week before seeding begins in order to complete a pre-seeding inspection.
In addition to topping up oils and fluids, inspecting and servicing all grease points on the tank and toolbar, and assessing and fixing any obviously worn or damaged components, producers should complete a full walk-around inspection to check all hydraulic lines, search for any leaks and look for pinched electrical harnesses. Remember that a small drip or a little wear on the outside often means significantly worse damage on the inside. On older machines, pay special attention to the toolbar, since frame cracks can happen over time.
The most important area to inspect on a seeder is the ground engagement point: the seed knife and, if separate from the seed knife, the fertilizer knife.
“You want the opener to be in good condition, without excessive wear, and with all the bolts and attachments in firm, factory condition,” said Bettschen. “That area is the highest point of wear on any machine, so it’ll be the first point a problem is likely to show up.”
Finally, visually inspect all seals on pressurized air cart tanks, then turn on fans, and pressure up to assess whether any air leaks have developed.
“Maintenance matters a lot,” said Bettschen. “I’ve seen four- or five-year-old machines that look brand new and I’ve seen one-year-old machines that look really rough. Servicing and maintaining your equipment will save you a lot of money and a lot of time.”
Certain equipment dealers and manufacturers, including both SeedMaster and Seed Hawk, offer training clinics for owners and operators.
“Our customers only use the equipment for four or six weeks per year, so they might not know all the finer details of it,” said Meyer. “We run free operator and maintenance clinics annually as a way to help them be successful. We talk through best practices, show them what to keep an eye on, explain which parts you need to check and when.”
Once seeding begins, many producers may be tempted to increase their speed to get their crop into the ground as quickly as possible. Experts recommend against. Not only is attempting to seed too fast hard on equipment, it will negatively affect equipment’s ability to seed consistently and at the proper depth.
“Going a mile an hour faster will push the limits of keeping your butt in the seat, let alone getting seed into the ground effectively,” said Meyer. “Older equipment simply wasn’t made to go that fast and even newer equipment has operating limits.
“The important thing to remember is that there’s very little benefit to going faster. It’s much more useful to put your efforts into avoiding a breakdown — that’s where the efficiency will come from.