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Defeat Downtime: How to Winterize Farm Machinery

If mild fall weather is lulling you into a false sense of security, be warned: winter in the US corn belt often arrives fast. As temperatures prepare to plunge, it’s a good time to get ahead on winterizing machinery and equipment.

A little effort now can pay dividends come the spring – not just by making sure your machinery is primed and ready for action when planting season starts, but by helping you avoid unnecessary downtime and costs.  Let’s take a look at some priority tasks you should be completing before the winter freeze arrives.

Clean and store farm machinery

Dried on mud, crop residues and other debris accumulated during harvest, fall tillage and other farming operations should now be cleaned off of machines that won’t be used until the spring.  You might wonder what’s the harm in leaving dry residue alone – but mud and chaff can trap moisture on surfaces that speeds up corrosion, and also prevents you from properly inspecting your equipment to ensure it’s in good condition.  

A good wash down in the late fall might seem like a vanity project but it’s actually just good farm sense, helping you nip rust issues in the bud and extending the lifespan of your equipment.  

Inspect engine compartments, belts and pulleys to make sure they’re clear of any plant residue that could catch fire when the machine is started up again in spring.

Once cleaned, ideally planters, harrows, chisel plows and other equipment that isn’t needed over winter should be stored in a weatherproof and rodent-proof barn to minimize the risk of damage occurring during idle periods.  If space is an issue, consider using custom tarp to offer some protection from the elements.

Tractor ready for winterizing on a barren corn field

Look out for lubrication

Cold temperatures increase the viscosity of lubricants as well as causing metals to shrink or constrict.  As a result, moving parts that are not adequately lubricated before winter sets in can seize up completely in cold weather, leading to unnecessary downtime and sometimes even expensive parts replacements to get them moving again.

Prevent this from happening by carrying out a lubrication check on all your farm equipment in the late fall – change to a lower viscosity engine oil if you live in a particularly cold region, apply grease where required, and replace sealed components like bearing hubs if you suspect they’ve reached the end of their useful life.  This will ensure your machinery is ready to roll when the temperature starts to rise again.

Precision-engineered flange component with threaded center and bolt holes for machinery assembly

Coolant, fuel and other fluid checks

Winterizing fluids is important for machinery that will be stored in the colder months but also for machines you’ll continue to use in winter.  

Check the antifreeze levels in the cooling system and also test the freeze point of the fluids to ensure the correct water to antifreeze ratio – vital to stop engines from freezing up in cold weather but also for making sure that water doesn’t corrode the engine interior when the machine is sitting idle.

Bright yellow coolant reservoir cap prominently marked on a farm machinery engine

Engine powered equipment that won’t be used in winter should be stored with a full fuel tank – this stops condensation from forming during cold spells, which can contaminate the fuel with water when there’s a thaw.

Hydraulic fluids, transmission and engine oil should all be changed to a product with appropriate cold weather viscosity – run the machine for a short period after any fluid change to ensure the new fluid is circulated into the system.

Winter battery care

Idle batteries will discharge at a rate of 1% per day – and even faster in freezing weather – due to parasitic drain.  This natural process can also lead to sulfation of the battery which means that it can’t be recharged due to a buildup of sulfur on its lead plates. 

Maintain battery health by disconnecting and/or removing batteries and storing them in a warmer location – ideally keeping them charged using a smart charger that can detect when a top-up is required.  If this isn’t possible, aim to start and run your machinery on a regular basis to prevent the battery from discharging too much.

Close-up of a mechanic's hands assessing the condition of a used piece of machinery

Winter tire maintenance

After a long season in the field, there’s a good chance your vehicle tires are showing signs of wear or a loss of pressure – so now is a great time to inspect, replace or re-pressurize tires.  Underinflated tired will result in rapid wear and sidewall damage while overinflation can increase the risk of perishing, blowouts and soil compaction.

Of course, if you’ll be using a snow plow or blower, you need to make sure your tires have adequate tread to grip in tricky conditions – don’t forget to make sure snow chains and other equipment is ready to go.

Snow-covered tractor with plow attachment clearing winter roads during a heavy snowfall

Essential electrical checks for farm vehicles

Checking vehicle electrics before winter sets in is another essential maintenance task – not least because darker, shorter days depend on headlights and illuminated instruments being in full working order.  

For other equipment that will be stored over winter, it’s a good idea to make sure all bulbs and electrical connections are functional and safe to reduce the risk of electrical fires and ensure you can hit the ground running when spring planting rolls around.

Agricultural equipment in operation

Maintaining tillage & planting parts

Before you store equipment away for winter, check that all wear parts – discs, blades, tines etc – are in good condition with enough life remaining to get you through the upcoming season.  Check the alignment on coulters and chisels so that when you do bring this equipment back into use, you don’t have to waste valuable time on these checks and adjustments – once the sun comes out in spring, you’ll be good to go!  

Don’t forget that our Maximum Duty seed opener blades carry our ‘Guaranteed True®’ promise – we test every assembly before it leaves our warehouse so you don’t have to.

Spare Parts Inventory

Even with the best maintenance and preparation in the world, breakdowns will happen. Winter is the ideal time to make sure you have supplies of replacement parts for your equipment so that if you do hit a bump in spring, you can quickly and easily carry out any necessary repairs and get back to work quickly.  

Our Spring Preseason Promo runs from fall through New Year each year and offers farmers the chance to stock up on essentials for spring planting at discounted prices.

Enhance efficiency next spring

Regular maintenance combined with selecting the best quality tillage and planting parts you can afford is a tried-and-true way to enhance agronomic efficiency at any time of year. 

Wearparts offers farmers a genuine alternative to OEM parts with the benefit of up to 30% extra wear life – check out what our customers say about us, or find your nearest dealer

Crop rotation and how it benefits the soil

Maintaining soil fertility is a never-ending challenge for farmers, who are tasked with feeding a growing population using the same (or even less) land mass every year – and crop rotation is just one strategy farmers can deploy to keep their lands fertile.

For decades, it was thought that artificial fertilizers were an easy solution to soil degradation – after all, what could be simpler than just applying a man-made product to replace what nature lacks?  

But as we’ve learned more about more about soil, it’s become clear that artificial fertilizers aren’t a cure-all for nutrient depletion, and that their overuse can actually have a negative effect on soil quality as well as the wider environment.

Crop rotation is a natural method of soil enrichment that works with the soil ecosystem to preserve structure, encourage biodiversity and fix nitrogen and other nutrients.  Let’s take a look and how and why farmers do it.

What is crop rotation?

Crop rotation is a farming practice that involves systematically changing the type of crop that is grown in a particular field or location, usually from one year to the next – so instead of planting say, corn, in the same field year after year, the farmer rotates his crop by planting a different crop or group of plants in a specific sequence.  The types of crops in a rotation will depend on climate, soil type and the farmer’s goals.

Why do farmers rotate their crops?

In almost every aspect of the living world, variety is a good thing.  The more diversity that exists in any ecosystem, the healthier it will be – and soil is no different.  By rotating their crops, farmers can change up the variables when it comes to their soil ecosystem – factors like root depth, the volume of organic matter, moisture uptake and even the presence of insects can all have beneficial effects for the soil, and therefore subsequent crop yields.

Key benefits of crop rotation

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of crop rotation as opposed to monocropping (growing the same crop in the same place every year).

  1. Soil health improvement

Crop rotation is primarily used as a method of enriching the soil by rotating crops that deplete nutrients with crop that add nutrients – particularly nitrogen.  Leguminous crops like clover, vetch and peas are known as ‘nitrogen fixing’ plants, which means they capture nitrogen from the air and sequester it in the soil via their roots.  As well as being cheaper and more environmentally friendly than using man-made nitrogen fertilizers, it’s thought that using nature in this way makes nitrogen in the soil more readily available to subsequent crop cycles.

  1. Erosion prevention

Certain crops in a rotation can be used to minimize soil erosion.  Plants like grasses have deep roots and underground rhizomes that bind the soil together, reducing the risk of topsoil being washed away by rain or carried away by high winds.  Plants with deep, penetrating roots also help prevent soil from becoming compacted, which allows moisture to travel deeper and encourages the presence of earthworms and other organisms that work to break down organic matter and enhance the soil’s structure.

  1. Weed management

Crop rotations that include cover crops can aid with weed management by physically suppressing weed growth – stopping weed seeds from getting the moisture or light they need to germinate.  But changing up your crops – and therefore the wider conditions in the field – can also stop any one weed species from becoming dominant.  In monocropping systems, it’s common for one or two particular types of weed to thrive in the conditions that crop creates, and after several years, those weeds can become highly established and even resistant to herbicides.  Changing the crop means changing the conditions, which stops unwanted species from getting a strong foothold and makes all weeds easier to control.

  1. Pest and disease control

Much like with weeds, specific crops are vulnerable to specific types of pests and disease.  If you monocrop, the life cycles of those pests and diseases will quickly become established and can be increasingly difficult to break.  Switching crops prevents these cycles from occurring, giving your crops and soil a break from pest and disease problems that could otherwise become endemic – but also attracting beneficial insects and bacteria that work to keep soil ecosystems in balance long-term.

What does a typical crop rotation look like?

Crop rotations can vary a lot depending on climate, soil conditions and the farmer’s business objectives.  Here’s a very simplified example of a crop rotation and the reasons for the sequence:

Year 1: Legume Crop

Legume crops like peas and soybeans are nitrogen-fixing plants. They have a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules, allowing them to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants. Planting legumes in the first year of the rotation enriches the soil with nitrogen, making it available for subsequent crops without the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Year 2: Grass Crop

Corn, wheat and sorghum are all examples of grass crops.  They are heavy nitrogen users and will therefore benefit from the nitrogen fixed into the soil by the legumes in year one, reducing the farmer’s dependence on synthetic fertilizers.  Grass crops also have a different pest and disease profile than legumes.

Year 3: Root Crop

Root crops like potatoes, carrots and other vegetables are typically grown last in a rotation because they are less demanding on soil nutrients and also because they naturally break up the soil structure as they grow, and during harvesting.  Since legumes prefer a loose soil structure, this is a useful characteristic.  As with other crop groups, the pest and disease profile of root crops is different, and helps to break the cycle.

Many crop rotations are more complicated than this – particularly when cover crops are added in between cash crops or during fallow periods. The length of rotation can also vary – some farmers will grow their main cash crop for several consecutive years before going into a rotation. 

What planting and tillage tools are needed for successful crop rotation?

When it comes to tillage and planting in a crop rotation, efficiency is really important.  The more complex your rotation is, the less you can afford downtime, so it’s important that tools like disc blades are long-wearing to avoid frequent changing, especially halfway through a busy season!

Soil compaction can be a problem in complex rotations due to the sheer number of passes required to plant and harvest multiple crops each year.  Thinking about how you can reduce passes – by switching to no-till, or using multi-purpose machinery – can reduce the amount of compaction.  It’s also really important to ensure your machinery and parts are well-maintained, with appropriate tire pressures and sharp blades to reduce drag.

Precision planting is also important, and you can save valuable time and energy with Guaranteed True® seed disc openers from Wearparts – we test every assembly in-house to some of the tightest wobble and lope tolerances, so you don’t have to. 

To find out more about how quality parts from Wearparts can enhance your crop rotations, get in touch.