It’s been a tough harvest for many North American potato farmers. In my neck of the woods (northern North Dakota), August’s drought turned into rain that wouldn’t quit through September and then unseasonably frigid temperatures and deep snow just as harvest was ready to get rolling in October. Conditions have been changeable and challenging from Alberta through Manitoba, and Washington through Wisconsin. Difficult harvest conditions aren’t only hard on farmers; they’re hard on equipment too. Whether you’ve finished harvest for the year or are making a last push to bring in your acres, your harvester deserves some extra TLC this year.
Mud is brutal to harvesters. Mud strips lubrication, stretches aprons, and pulls on every sprocket, rod and chain. Many components that wouldn’t wear out in a normal season are bound to be more worn following wet, heavy digging conditions.
The key to staying in running order is to minimize damage and watch carefully for problems. I’ve been a potato farmer. I understand how hard it is to make time for cleaning and inspection when you’re pushing hard during harvest. But here’s the thing: a breakdown doesn’t just cost the price of the part. When your machine stops, your crew stops too, leaving you paying labour for people standing around. Too, as the harvest window closes, every diggable hour is vital.
After every day of harvest, start by cleaning off as much mud and vines as possible. Inspect chain webs daily; pay attention for bent rods, broken rivets, and worn connector clips or connector rods. Check web apron drive sprockets and bearings for excessive wear.
Test your rollers to make sure they move smoothly: rust and vines can all cause additional drag on the system. Then, check and tighten all roller chains. Also check your U-joints, replace them if necessary. Oil your rollers and grease your U-joints every second or third day when working through heavy conditions, especially if they’re also exposed to rain. A single pump of grease is ideal: over-greasing can blow the seals.
After harvest but before storing your harvester away, clean off all the loose dirt and vines (brush your machine clean rather than washing it: especially in cooler conditions, a washed machine won’t dry out enough before you park it away, potentially causing rust issues). As you clean, write yourself a list of everything that needs fixing or replacing. Dealerships often offer wintertime specials on parts: if you have a list at the ready, you won’t be scrambling for parts pre-harvest next year. Check every hose and seal since working in excess moisture takes an extra toll on rubber. Don’t forget to loosen your slip clutches so they don’t rust tight over the winter. While you’re at it, inspect your slip clutch pads in case they need replacing.
Finally, park your harvester away in a dry building. And then? Cross those fingers that next year is a better year!