With the majority of harvest across the UK all but nearly complete, Alex Heath takes a look at what farmers should consider to get their combines in top shape before shutting the shed doors on them.
Given the importance of a combine during the busy harvest period, making sure the machines go into winter in the best shape will help to ensure it is ready to roll again the following season.
We spoke to Richard Allard, of Tallis Amos Group, to find out what best practice is for bedding down your combine ahead of its winter hibernation, and discuss some of the most contentious schools of thought when it comes to combine storage.
THE single most important factor with winter storage is ensuring the combine goes into the shed clean, says Mr Allard.
By this, he means free of any crop residue, including straw and grain.
The best way to achieve this, he says, is with a high capacity compressor, but failing that, a leaf blower or standard air compressor with a long lance and soft brush will suffice.
This will reduce the risk of material decomposing and drawing moisture into the metal work, and thus causing rusting.
It also removes a food source for rodents.
He says the combine should not typically be washed prior to storage.
The only time washing should be considered is if the combine has been left outside over harvest and rained on, causing straw to stick to the machine.
If time permits, washing it before the last 10 hectares or so needs doing can be a good idea. Working the combine will then provide plenty of heat to expel any moisture from washing.
WHILE cleaning, Mr Allard says it is a good idea to make a list of anything that looks awry, ready for its service in the spring. Oil levels should be checked and topped up.
Also, leave the diesel tank brimmed, but crucially add a diesel conditioner to stop bacterial growth. A full tank is said to limit the amount of condensation build-up in the tank.
He acknowledges having near on 1,000 litres of diesel sat over winter is an expense, but reckons it is worth it to limit the amount of water getting in the system.
In addition, it is important to run the combine for sufficient time that the diesel conditioner gets around all the pipework.
However, when considering AdBlue, the tank should be filled with enough to allow the combine to start and run each month throughout winter, but no more, in order to prevent crystallisation in the tank.
ALL removable panels should be taken off, and stored on a pallet over winter.
This allows for air circulation around the machine, something vermin do not like.
Grain elevators, stone trap and sieve covers, as well as those covering the separator, cleaning shoe and drum, should all, if possible, be removed.
All filters should be taken off, cleaned and replaced. Likewise, ensure the radiator is free of detritus.
Carry out the cleaning process, then run the combine again to free any lingering material. Then, with the air hose, go around again until it is completely clear.
MR Allard advises greasing all points and running the machine up.
All areas showing shiny steel should be sprayed with a light penetrating oil or hydraulic oil/diesel mix.
With the combine running and a good airflow, and as long as it is safe to do so, let some of the oil drift up through the combine, as this will give some protection to the machine’s internal components.
Give any exposed ram rods a liberal coating, but where possible retract these so the chrome is not exposed. Use a heavy oil to lubricate the machine’s chains.
Areas of panelwork which have been rubbed, such as the header coupling plate and the rear hitch, would benefit from a lick of paint. Likewise, straighten any panels or markers which may have met a gatepost.
Grease all the shafts and bearings on the header and give the multi-docker a good spray of thin oil.
Where possible, also keep the header under cover. He advises painting bare metal on the header each year, but failing that, a good dose of oil should suffice.
ONE particular point up for debate is whether or not to slacken off belts prior to storage.
Mr Allard says to preserve the belts and get maximum longevity out of them, tension should be released.
However, this then prevents you from running up the combine and all of its functions over winter, which could lead to seized bearings.
As such, it is up to the farmer to balance the cost of replacing belts or stuck on bearings and the likelihood of these situations occurring.
A similar discussion can be had with regards to tyres over winter, with two main schools of thought.
Mr Allard says as long as the tyres are not exposed to direct sunlight and moved once per month on to a different spot, leaving them inflated should not cause any issues.
Again, he recommends striking the combine up once per month, running it flat-out for half-an-hour to heat everything up and giving it a little run around the yard - something that cannot be done if it is on blocks.
Tyre manufactures would suggest you rest the combine on blocks and deflate the tyres, but Mr Allard says with modern rubber, problems are extremely rare.
AS mentioned, good practice over winter is to get the machine up to temperature, stopping parts, such as exhaust gas recirculation and throttle valves from sticking and disturb any furry infiltrators, as well as dispelling any moisture that may have built up.
The shed in which the combine is stored over winter is also equally as important.
For many of the reasons previously mentioned, but not least because it can be draughty, an open front shed can be ideal for making it an unattractive place for rats. It will also be lighter than a fully enclosed shed, something else rodents do not like.
To control rodent populations, make sure bait is placed outside of the shed. Baiting inside the combine is counterintuitive, as bait is designed to attract rodents.
This follows with the cab, which from experience, Mr Allard says can be a bio-hazard zone come spring service, following six months of a spare sandwich festering.
Give this a good clean out and blow down at the end of harvest and it will be a much more pleasant place to sit the following year.
When doing the monthly run-up during winter, ensure the air-conditioning is turned on, as the gas has oil in it to lubricate the air conditioning pump.