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Machinery hygiene to reduce grass weed spread

As combines get into full swing, the importance of regular machine clean-down becomes ever-more apparent to help reduce spreading of grass-weeds. Richard Bradley reports from the recent BASF ‘keep it clean’ event.

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BASF launches its #keepitclean campaign

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BASF and John Deere has teamed up to inform farmers and contractors about the importance of machinery hygiene.

Harvest is a hectic time for any arable farm, but by putting simple measures in place you could reduce the chance of spreading blackgrass and other hard to shift weeds across your land.


While wind and animals can also contribute to the spread, machinery plays a big part in transporting the pesky weed, says BASF’s Ruth Stanley. And it is machines such as combines and balers which are likely to pose a threat. As they move from field to field, and work across both clean and weeded areas, weed seeds can remain in crevices, chambers and in the chaff left covering the machine.


At a recent event, BASF and John Deere delved into the issues, and pointed out problematic areas on machines. While JD machines were the focus at this event, similar regimes can be used on other brands.

Overall top tips

  • Make use of machine clean out functions
  • Keep leaf blower in twine box or tool box
  • Fit machines with airline couplings, keep lance in tool box
  • Keep suitable PPE in machines

The event signified the launch of BASF’s #keepitclean campaign, where it hopes to highlight issues with machinery and give guidance to farmers. In addition, the company is looking for farmers to send their top tips to reduce and prevent weed spread.


As is often the case, every field and every farm wants combining done at once, so whether farm-owned, hired in or operated by a contractor, a combine can be under serious pressure at harvest time. Pushing on and getting the job done is likely to be top priority. However, consideration should be given to what else is going through the combine, other than your prized crop.


To find out some of the major weed-spreading risks, we take a look at various problem areas on machines.


Combine Top Tips

To combat these issues, a number of top tips can be used:

  • Regularly run machine clean-out cycles
  • Blow down on regular basis
  • Open guards to check for debris
  • Harvest clean areas first

Grassweeds which make their way into the combine will either be dispensed onto the stubble, or spread over a much greater area as they can be harboured in dead spots inside grain tanks, concaves and cleaning shoes.


If these seeds happen to be shifted while working, a once clean area of field could quickly feel the effects of the hardy weed.


Some modern combines feature a pre-set clean-out cycle. Controlled from the cab, concaves and shoes are opened up and fans run flat-out to try to shift remaining material.


John Deere says this should be run for about 30seconds (this varies between makes of machine) in between each field or heavily weeded patch, ideally in a non-cropped area, such as a gateway, track or yard. However, this is not always practical, so a suitable location should be found.

Once run, the combine should then be blown down to agitate and remove stubborn material, with side panels and any problematic areas opened up, such as the concave and cleaning shoe.


For shifting the bulk, a leaf blower offers a high volume of airflow, with an airline and decent lance required to move material in those hard to reach spots. Deere says the cleanout cycle should be run again to get rid of the agitated material.


This is something which farmer Eric Wright, who farms and contract farms 2,600 hectares in Saxelbye, Leicestershire, says can be done in about 30 minutes, compared to a complete clean-down which can take up to five or six hours. “We try to give machines a quick clean twice a day. To prevent being covered in chaff all day, we keep a couple of thin spray suits in the tool box.


“Where we know there are heavily weeded parts of fields, we try to harvest and bale all the clean areas first, and tackle dirty bits last. While it can take a little more time, it prevents us from mixing the weeds into good parts of the fields and farm.”

David Sedgley who farms 900ha in Thistleton, Grantham, pointed out how it is difficult to find a perfect solution when the weather is set to turn and the crop is ready to be cut. However, he says doing something to combat weed spread has to be better than doing nothing at all.


Mr Wright adds, “Farmers have to risk assess their situation on a field-by-field basis. If there is a major issue within a field then more time should be spent making sure the machine is cleaned properly, whereas if you are working in a number of clean fields only a minor clean may do.”


Interestingly, John Deere points out how, at the expense of increasing grain losses, throughput can be increased. The firm says only half a per cent increase makes a big difference, and would give time to carry out a thorough machine clean-down daily, or several minor ones. The firm also says the loss in grain could be offset in the increased level of weed control.


Baler top tips

To prevent rapid transport of weed seeds, there are a number of simple options for clean down:

  • Empty bale chamber at each job
  • Clear material from pickup and packer area
  • Open and check inside covers and twine box
  • Clear off running gear

A quick and easy way to transport weeds between farms and fields is via a baler. Often working in hot dry conditions, both round and square balers can harbour straw and chaff which could contain the pesky seeds.


This build up can also increase the baler’s chance of catching fire. As with combines, cleaning should be done regularly, ideally in the yard, or a non-cropped area.


If crop containing only a few weed seeds is left in the feeding system, or in part of a bale remaining in the chamber, a problem could quickly arise once the first bale is dropped in the next field.


Mr Wright says how timing the last few bales in a field or bad area is important. “Emptying the chamber may mean one bale is too long and the first bale of the next job is soft, but it helps to stop dropping seeds from field to field.”

If the bale is too short to be gripped by the baler’s ejectors, Mr Segley says how he often drops a strap between the packer and bale to pull it out manually.


Once the chamber is empty, the baler should be blown down from top to bottom, with the leaf blower and airline for the stubborn nooks and crannies. In this, John Deere says it is a good idea to open up panels to get at mechanisms and areas such as running gear, which, by nature, features a number of flat surfaces.


While pickup and packer should remain fairly clean in heavy crops, slight material build up may be apparent at the outmost edges. These may also need a blast of air depending how stubborn the chaff is.


Tractors can also play a part in the transport of weeds, both before and after harvest. Often found spraying, grain carting and baling, tractors can harbour seed in a few hard to reach places.


Blast off both the rear-end and under cab floor.


At the rear, spool block and axles are the perfect place for a build-up of chaff and seed. Again not removing this poses a fire hazard, along with the chance of spreading weeds. This fiddly gap continues under the cab itself, with access limited to through the wheel arch.


These areas should be blown down with a similar regime, ideally on a yard where there is no chance of contaminating fields. Engine bay and radiators should be done similarly.

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