MOSCOW, Iowa — At the end of each harvest season, Dave Guthrie will most likely be in his shop taking notes. The work he does in this time could save him money next year and in the years to come.
“I look at the corn head, stripper plates and gathering chains,” Guthrie said.
“And even on the combine, if you start looking at the elevators and sieves and things like that. Once the sprockets start getting worn, you know the chains are getting worn out.”
Taking notes on these parts helps Guthrie stay ahead on maintenance for his combine and saves him from having to deal with many emergencies in the field the next season.
With the rising cost of equipment, this also helps his wallet.
“If it costs you $60 to $80 an hour (to take it to a shop), you just pay yourself $20 an hour,” Guthrie said. “… You can learn a lot of maintenance by reading the operator’s manual.”
And the timing will be right.
“Unless you have it really planned out, you might have to wait a week or two to take it to town,” he said. “During harvest season, they might be able to sneak you through, but it can be costly.”
Guthrie noted keeping the machines clean is extremely important for grain equipment.
“With so much electrical stuff, I try to get the dirt and debris off of them, so you don’t have the little four-legged mice in there,” Guthrie said.
“They can make a nightmare out of some wiring if they start chewing on something. You need to keep it clean. They come into a combine, especially with the grain on it.”
Guthrie prefers to do most of his maintenance in the shop he put up in 2009, and he is able to get a good amount done before winter sets in.
“The first thing I do with the combine before I put it away is blow it off, and I don’t always wash it,” Guthrie said.
“I blow it off real good, and if there are little things that need to be repaired, I just put them on a note. I may not always repair it before it goes in the shed, but that way I know about it.
“If you keep track of the little things, you might be able to get by without repairing it for a few days, but it’s a good reminder.”
However, some farmers may need to turn to dealers or service shops to help with maintenance throughout the offseason.
Gary Kelting, owner of Cove Equipment in Moscow, Iowa, said they are able to help farmers by identifying wear spots before they happen.
“The (technicians) know where the wear items are,” Kelting said.
“They’ll be able to say certain things happen at 400 hours, which helps them look for certain things. Hopefully what we can provide is seeing things before they break in the heat of the season, so people can keep on combining. We are trying to avoid preventable breakdowns.”
He said the technicians are especially helpful when it comes to all the technologic advances that have become prevalent in many of these machines.
“The guidance and the GPS is continually changing,” Kelting said.
“… It’s not like a bearing where it will always stay a bearing. Technology is continuously changing. We have to always send people to tech school on that to keep them updated every year.”
When the time comes for the eventual purchase of new equipment, Guthrie and Kelting offered a few suggestions.
“I don’t buy brand new combines, I try and buy one that’s around 5 to 8 years old, and I only farm around 300 acres now,” Guthrie said.
“I try not to let my equipment get to a point where it’s too old because then it’s not worth much. If you keep one that’s 10, maybe 15 years old, they are still worth pretty good money. I think about it about every 10 years or so.”
Kelting agreed that buying used is generally the way to go and what he tends to see most often.
When looking forward to future equipment purchases, he said the down markets may put farmers and dealers in an interesting position soon.
“New combine sales, for what they cost, there aren’t too many people looking,” Kelting said.
“That puts more demand on the used, especially the ones that are only a few years old and are ‘like new.’ If this keeps up with the markets, it will be hard to find good used equipment because everyone will be gobbling those up.”