Year ahead report: Forces that will shape the rural economy

Grain sorghum is harvested on the Wilder Farms in Navasota, TX on Aug. 23, 2013. 

This time of year there is always anticipation as farmers return to their fields. This is especially true as they prepare for another forage-harvest season, whether it is alfalfa or different types of grass hay. The extremely wet, cold weather this spring has delayed some forage growth across the Midwest.

While wet weather is not ideal for spring fieldwork, it does allow farmers the opportunity to do maintenance on haying equipment before the season to prevent costly downtime later, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Forage Specialist Bruce Anderson.

The first step Anderson recommends is to inspect, lubricate and service all power-driven areas such as belts, bearings, chains and gears. Set the correct tension on belts and chains.

For those using machines with sicklebar headers, check, sharpen or replace cutterbar sections and adjust wear plates, hold-down clips and guards. Make sure your cutterbar has proper knife register, he said.

On equipment such as disc mowers, Anderson suggests producers replace knives and rotate or replace worn turtles over the knives. Conditioning rollers are often overlooked and you will need to look for uneven wear and adjust the roll gap, roll timing and roll pressure for the crop you are harvesting.

Anderson said on round balers producers will need to inspect belts, chains and slats or rollers frequently for wear. Trim frayed edges and repair belts as needed to maintain uniform tension.

With small, square balers you will need to check plunger knife clearance and plunger alignment. Producers will also need to inspect the tying mechanism and adjust this as needed.

Pick-up teeth on both balers and rakes are often bent or broken. Replace these as needed and adjust for proper height if necessary.

Anderson also recommends have replacement parts on hand for frequently broken or replaced items on your haying equipment. In addition, review your owner’s manual to identify recommended maintenance procedures and proper settings.

Another important aspect of baling hay is to accomplish this task as safely as possible.

When dealing with hay crops, it is especially important to take safety precautions considering hay crops typically grow on rough, steep or other ground unsuitable for row crops, said Andrew “Dewey” Mann, safety research associate for Ohio State University Extension.

“No matter how large or valuable your crop is, it is not worth risking an unnecessary injury or death,” Mann said. “It’s important to remember to communicate safe practices daily, slow down and use good judgement.”

Producers should always wait until all components have stopped mowing before working with equipment. Always ensure the PTO is disengaged and the engine is shut off before dismounting to service or adjust the equipment.

Mann said always be prepared for a fire. Producers need to carry a Class ABC fire extinguisher on all tractors and make sure they are charged and in working order.

Keep all shields on hay equipment in place. Replace immediately after maintenance is complete and don’t wait until you are ready to go to the field, he said. — Russ Quinn, DTN staff reporter

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