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Report - The Farmer´s Maintenance

Maintenance in agriculture

Like many industries, agriculture relies heavily on physical assets, including machinery, mobile equipment and buildings. It is important to keep everything running properly to avoid delays in important agricultural processes. Sowing, harvesting and other processes are tied to strict timelines and the equipment used to carry them out must be ready for operation on time. As such, maintenance plays an important role in keeping farms running year after year.

How maintenance plays a role in agriculture

Both planned and unplanned maintenance play a crucial role in keeping a farm running. These two types of maintenance help farmers adhere to the strict time frames that prevail in the industry, while maintaining safety.

Importance of maintenance of agricultural machinery
The role of maintenance in agriculture is to ensure that agricultural equipment works when it is needed. Machinery used in agricultural processes must be ready for operation on time - otherwise there can be significant losses for the farm as a whole.

Additionally, facilities intended to process and store food must be kept safe, clean and structurally sound to ensure that the farm's product is safe for consumption.

More precisely, agricultural machine maintenance fulfills these purposes:

  • Prevent breakdowns and accidents
  • Keep planting, fertilizing, harvesting and so on according to schedule
  • Maintain quality of end products by calibrating thermometers, metal detectors, sensors, etc.

Types of assets maintained in agriculture
Farms are run with heavy equipment, much of which is maintained by the farmers themselves. In addition, most farms have buildings that must be kept clean and healthy. Among the assets that farmers need to maintain are:

  • Tractors
  • Sowing machines
  • Planting machines
  • Balers
  • Plows
  • Fertilizer spreader
  • Cultivators
  • Harvester
  • Irrigation system
  • Storehouse
  • Silos
  • Sprayer
  • Transportation system
  • Mixer
  • Valves and lines
  • Dispensers
  • Cooling/temperature control system

This is of course far from a comprehensive list. The types of assets that need to be maintained depend on the farm's size and level of specialization.

Who performs maintenance on the farm?
Often it is the farmers themselves who maintain their equipment, which means that they need a broad knowledge of their machines, how the machines work and how often the machines need maintenance. In small family-owned farms, all maintenance can be done by a single person (but often with the help of family members), while larger operations will have several hands on hand.

Farming involves a lot of unskilled labor, and as such, farmers often have very little formal training in maintaining farm assets. Thus, accidents and injuries can occur as a result of poor maintenance.

Common preventive maintenance checks for equipment maintenance and calibration
Agricultural equipment can either be mobile (tractors, harvesters and ploughs) or fixed in place (conveyor belts, mixers, pasteurizers). Regardless, each piece of equipment must be checked regularly to ensure it is working reliably.

Please note that the timelines suggested below are suggestions only. The exact frequency with which you need to perform routine checks on your equipment depends on its level of use, weather conditions, applications, etc.

Check and change fluids
The fluids used in the equipment must be checked to ensure they are clean and safe to use. From time to time, these fluids should be replaced as well, such as when they begin to deteriorate or accumulate contaminants.

Some of the fluids that farmers need to check are:

  • Engine oil (daily)
  • Transmission fluid (daily)
  • Refrigerant (annually)
  • Hydraulic oil (every couple of years)

Lubrication of moving parts
Lubrication is an important aspect of keeping farm equipment running efficiently and reliably. Generally, all moving parts on your equipment will need to be lubricated at regular intervals. Lubrication timeframes vary for each piece of equipment, your general climate conditions - for example, extremely wet conditions can drastically reduce lubrication intervals - and the level of use it sees.

Often, the owner's manual for each piece of equipment provides rough guidelines for lubrication and other preventive maintenance tasks. These timelines can give you a baseline to work from as you begin your preventive maintenance plan.

Check and change the filter
In order for the machines to work efficiently, various filters are used to remove impurities from liquids, such as fuel and lubricants. Oil filters are usually changed when you change the oil - about once every 100 hours, depending on usage.

Air filters, on the other hand, will vary considerably depending on use. They need to be replaced as often as they become clogged, which can vary from every two hours to once a month. The key is to check them regularly (at least daily) and then make a plan for preventive maintenance based on your findings.

Examining stock
Anything that rotates, whether it's the wheels on a tractor or the rollers on a conveyor belt, relies on ball bearings to keep moving smoothly. Bearings wear out over time, so if you hear grinding or your rotating equipment starts to overheat, they will likely need to be replaced.

Routine checks are recommended for bearing maintenance, as is regular lubrication. The time intervals for bearing checks depend on your equipment and usage time, how well you manage the lubrication and your surrounding climate. Your owner's manual should give you a recommended time frame to get started.

Calibration equipment
Thermometers, thermostats, metal detectors, scales and other food safety instruments must always be kept properly calibrated. If calibration is turned off, it can lead to safety and health issues, such as:

  • Error when mixing preservatives
  • Inadequate temperature control for some products
  • Introduction of foreign objects into foodstuffs
  • Calibration intervals should follow the instructions in your user manual for each piece of equipment.

Damage inspection
Parts wear out over time. Regularly check your equipment for the following:

  • Loosen tensions and cracks on belts and chains
  • Strange sounds or smells Leaks in hoses, fuel/oil lines, cylinders and hydraulic lines
  • Dents, breaks and other signs of wear in equipment Loose or broken pins and bolts
  • If you find something wrong, get it repaired as soon as possible.

Winter storage of equipment
Before winter each year, it's important to make sure your equipment is ready for the colder months, which often means long-term storage for some machines. Some of the winter preparation tasks that farmers typically need to perform include:

  • Changing diesel fuel from #2 to #1
  • You either disconnect the batteries or keep them charged throughout the season
  • Cleaning of heavy equipment
  • Emptying and cleaning of pesticide application equipment
  • Check antifreeze and hydraulic fluids and replace if necessary
  • Draining the diesel exhaust liquid tank (if necessary)
  • Oil equipment for storage Make all outstanding repairs
  • Perform other routine preventive maintenance tasks

If you will be using equipment during the winter, make sure it is ready to continue operating in the cold, especially if you are in an area with a lot of snowfall and a lot of freezing temperatures.

Other routine maintenance
Vehicles and moving equipment all require their own routine maintenance, and these tasks are often simple and straightforward. For example, vehicles may need to replace spark plugs and batteries from time to time.

Cleaning is another important task that should be done regularly. Simple cleaning tasks can be done daily, while more thorough scrubbing is often done weekly or monthly.

Common preventive maintenance tasks for farm buildings
In addition to equipment, farms also involve fixed assets such as buildings and land. Keeping facilities safe and in good condition is an important part of farm maintenance.

Walls and surfaces
Often the structures are used in agricultural applications either for storage or for food processing. In both cases, the walls and surfaces must be non-toxic and non-absorbent to ensure that food products are safe. For example, no lead-based paints should be used. If there are any cracks or fissures, these should be patched to facilitate regular sanitation.

Plumbing system
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are important components of any building. For buildings where food products are processed or stored, it is important to ensure that the facilities are kept at the correct temperature and that any dust, fumes or smoke is properly extracted from the building.

Semi-annual checks are generally recommended for most climate control systems, although some components such as air filters should be replaced much more frequently.

Floors should promote drainage, for example by sloping towards drains and by being non-absorbent. This is particularly important in areas where liquids (milk or water) are handled. Damaged floors should be repaired as soon as possible, and other drainage systems, such as downspouts, should be kept clean and in good condition.

In outdoor areas, gutters and downspouts should be kept clear of debris to ensure water flows properly. Doing so will prevent flooding and structural damage.

Property maintenance
Every component of a building should be structurally sound, free of mold and water damage, and in overall good condition. Trusses, truss plates and support components should be repaired or replaced if they show any signs of damage. Clean off any rust and add reinforcement to areas that look like they might need it.

Lighting fixtures
Most building maintenance involves making sure all the lights are working. But in agriculture and food processing, it is even more important because broken bulbs can pose a serious health risk. Make sure all bulbs are either shatterproof or otherwise shielded. Doing so prevents broken debris from contaminating food items.

Of course, every time a lamp goes out, replace it with a suitable bulb to maintain safe lighting conditions.

Property maintenance
Other regular property maintenance should be handled on a consistent basis. Some things can be done daily, while others are done on a less frequent basis. A number of these regular building maintenance tasks include:

  • Mowing, pulling weeds and general landscaping
  • Snow removal during the winter months
  • General cleaning and housekeeping
  • Removal of debris

Ensure that all maintenance is handled in a manner that keeps food safe from contamination or spoilage during regular building maintenance.

How to perform maintenance safely
Just as it is important for farms to perform regular maintenance, it is equally important to ensure that the maintenance is done in a safe manner. One of the main causes of damage on a farm is machinery maintenance, ranking in frequency next to field work and animal care. The following tips can help ensure that maintenance work on your farm is carried out as safely as possible.

Read the instruction manual
In order to repair equipment safely, it is strongly recommended that you read the user manuals for your machines. Doing so not only informs you of what parts are needed and how often to perform routine maintenance, but also informs you of the risks involved when working with your equipment. PDF files of user manuals can be stored in Farmers First to make that information more accessible during maintenance.

Shut down and secure equipment before servicing
Before working on any machine or vehicle, make sure it is completely turned off first. All switches should not only be in the "off" position, but all power to the machine should also be disconnected (where applicable). Doing so will prevent the machine from suddenly turning on during maintenance, reducing the risk of damage. In fact, OSHA estimates these types of procedures prevent upwards of 50,000 injuries and 120 deaths per year.

It helps to have pre-planned lockout-tagout (LOTO) procedures in place for each piece of equipment. Make sure every person you have working on your farm is aware of these procedures and follows them when repairing or maintaining equipment.

Use appropriate personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to ensure that maintenance work is carried out safely. Gloves and a helmet are recommended when working on most mechanical and structural repairs, and special equipment should be used when working at height (fall prevention equipment) or in confined spaces with fumes (respiratory protection).

Use the right tools
Poorly designed or inadequate tools pose an ergonomic hazard to those working on farm equipment. In some cases, the right tool for the job may not be available due to financial constraints, or simply out of reach, causing farmers and mechanics to switch to something else less suitable.

Using the wrong tool for the job can lead to repetitive strain injuries, or it can directly result in a serious injury by causing an accident. These injuries can be prevented by making sure the necessary tools are readily available in advance of each maintenance task.

Add signage at risk areas
Hazards, such as heights, fragile floors, areas with fumes or excess dust particles and the like should be clearly marked. Doing so can help farm workers exercise caution and potentially prevent injuries, such as broken bones from falls or respiratory illnesses from inhaling fumes.

All signs must be clear and easy to recognize. Color-coding signs can help make them easier to recognize. For example, red and yellow often highlight hazards, so using these colors can improve clarity.

Avoid cross contamination
Farms often use hazardous substances, such as pesticides or cleaning chemicals. When cleaning or maintaining equipment that has come into contact with these substances, it is important to take careful precautions to prevent cross-contamination with food or other chemicals.

When cleaning surfaces and machines that frequently come into contact with food, ensure that all cleaning chemicals are completely removed before returning to use. The use of disposable gloves can also help prevent cross-contamination from one cleaning project to another.

Seek education
Most farmers are self-taught when it comes to maintenance work and therefore lack any formal training in proper safety protocols. Getting some training in farm maintenance can help reduce the risk of injury by providing information on best maintenance practices. A little investment now can prevent serious damage later.

Plan maintenance tasks in advance
Planning ahead for maintenance tasks can help prevent accidents by blocking out a specific time for the task to occur – such as when machinery is not in use – and by ensuring you have the right tools on hand. Scheduled maintenance also helps reduce the occurrence of unplanned incidents that can result in a machine breaking down.

Maintenance plays an important role in farming by keeping equipment in reliable and working condition. With sound planning and safety practices, farmers can perform maintenance on their equipment and buildings with minimal risk to their safety and that of others.


Source: Upkeep What Is Agricultural Maintenance? (