equipment maintenance
Equipment must be able to withstand changing conditions on the farm. From time to time water and mud are part of these obstacles.

The saying that prevention is better than cure rings true for all circumstances. It is especially apt where the maintenance of farm equipment is concerned. Farmers often tend to neglect or postpone this vital task when work pressure is high. Yet postponing it tends to make matters worse.

Retired agricultural engineer and agricultural mechanisation expert, Koos le Roux, says agricultural equipment is exposed to extreme variations in climate, from frost and ice in winter, to unbearably hot temperatures in summer. It must work in excessively wet or muddy conditions and must often power through choking clouds of dust, all the while delivering precision performance.

The main driver, of course, is the timeous completion of tasks. It is under these conditions that equipment maintenance is often neglected. Nevertheless, a professional is expected to look after his or her equipment, and therefore it is crucial that equipment is taken care of efficiently and systematically.

Jacques van Wyk of Optimal Agricultural Sales in Malmesbury agrees and adds that the condition and maintenance history of second-hand machinery that is sold or traded in for new models play a major role in determining their price.

The supply of second-hand agricultural machinery is currently significantly higher than the demand, due to the cost price squeeze affecting farmers, as well as the unrelenting drought in many areas, which is hampering farmers’ purchasing power even further. However, good quality second-hand equipment remains popular and sought after.

Tractors must often work in extremely hot and dusty conditions in order to plant seed timeously. (Photograph: Koos le Roux)

Preventative maintenance

Koos says the biggest cause of untimely equipment failure, which hampers the completion of urgent tasks, is that maintenance that should be done today is often left until tomorrow. Preventative maintenance is a strategy that every farmer needs to implement, as it guarantees optimal equipment performance throughout. Breakdowns become fewer, repair costs are reduced, and equipment remains safe to use.

Preventative maintenance is most necessary when the workload is at its highest. A farmer cannot afford breakdowns while ploughing, planting, cultivating, cutting, raking, baling or harvesting is in full swing. A broken combine standing idle while it should be harvesting is a nightmare.

The flip side is that regular preventative maintenance is no guarantee against equipment failure; even new equipment can break. However, good maintenance reduces the risk of breakdowns to a minimum.

Properly trained operators is an important aspect of preventative maintenance.

Proper maintenance saves money

Farmers often feel that the cost associated with preventative maintenance makes it a less worthwhile endeavour. Yet independent investigations have shown that overhauling engines timeously do not only prevent increased expenditure due to breakdowns, but saves 15% in fuel costs and improves traction by up to 10%.

The same goes for wearing parts. With regular replacement, equipment performance can be maintained throughout, which simplifies the task at hand and reduces running costs. In addition, it becomes increasingly difficult to adjust worn equipment with precision. Precision adjustment is essential to keep application costs low – agents can be applied in the right amounts, performance is improved, and less fuel is used.

Farmers often complain that they find it difficult to repair equipment, detect faults or perform precision adjustments. Koos’ advice is simple. “Read the manual! Many farmers do not realise how much information the manual contains, especially when it comes to preventative maintenance.”

The proper training of operators is another important part of preventative maintenance. The way farmers often leave the operation of an expensive and complicated piece of machinery in the hands of untrained operators never ceases to amaze. This makes effective performance virtually impossible and jeopardises the safety of the worker as well as the machine.

Second-hand equipment

Jacques says farmers should ideally buy new equipment, but it doesn’t always fit everyone’s budget. Second-hand equipment is often more affordable and, although it does not always have the same guarantee as new equipment, most farmers are equipped to handle common mechanical problems themselves.

Around 95% of all second-hand machinery have a reliable service history at the dealer or farmer. When buying second-hand machinery, the Agfacts guide (the Blue Book) can be consulted for the price of a particular model. Factors such as the service record, mechanical condition of especially the engine and gearbox, as well as the steering system, determine the price that can be paid for such a piece of machinery.

He says recognised dealers truly go the extra mile to meet their customers’ needs. These days they sell more than just products and are also involved in agriculture through sponsorships, farmers’ days and drought relief. His approach is that he only sells equipment to customers at a price that he himself is willing to pay.

Koos advises farmers to buy from a reputable dealer that is well-represented in their area, provides excellent and reliable service, and keeps ample spare parts. This way, there is no need for machinery to stand idle while the farmer waits for new parts.

Do your homework

Rising costs often make second-hand equipment more attractive, and buying such equipment is a personal choice. However, Koos believes farmers should insist on an on-farm practical demonstration to see how the equipment functions when combined with customised implements. This way, the farmer will be able to assess its condition and ability. Where possible, a warranty must be negotiated for a set period, and if there are obvious shortcomings the buyer is willing to repair him- or herself, the price must be adjusted accordingly.

Koos says when looking at the different features of new equipment, its technological sophistication, as well as the demands made on the farmer and operators to use it optimally become apparent. Most major manufacturers offer models with less advanced technical specifications that still do excellent work. These models are usually cheaper and less demanding of operators.

The alternative is to acquire good second-hand machinery that uses less advanced technology, but may have more powerful engines. However, buying second-hand equipment requires excellent planning and expertise to ensure that the product bought is fully functioning.

Second-hand equipment must be thoroughly examined, and basic mechanical knowledge and expertise with regard to performance is required, says Koos. No farmer can afford for work to come to a complete standstill during peak times due to breakages.

For more information, contact Koos le Roux on 082 828 9531 or koosleroux@live.co.za, or Jacques van Wyk on 082 389 2929 or sales@optimalagri.co.za. – Andries Gouws, Stockfarm