With harvest finished or winding down, don’t just park the tractor or combine in the barn or shed for a long winter’s nap.

Without taking some critical action to winterize farm equipment, there may be obstacles in getting them ready to roll in the spring, say university agricultural engineering departments and equipment company leaders.

“We know after this year’s harvest, farmers will be eager to get in the field next spring,” says Keith Dvorak, AGCO product performance manager. “But without taking time this fall to care for their tractors and other implements, farmers are risking a costly delay come spring.

Bob Schultheis, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist, adds that combines, balers, drills, planters and other equipment should be cleaned before being stored for the winter. He says proper storage should enhance equipment performance the following season. And he encourages farmers to review their equipment operator manuals to gain needed information on proper storage.

Dvorak says a new program from AGCO provides farmers and others with a guide for winterizing equipment. FARMS, announced by AGCO this fall, consists of five steps farmers should take to protect their equipment investment and prepare for next spring: fill tanks, adequately lubricate, repair damage, maintain and clean and store equipment:

  • Fill tanks – Condensation can occur as the weather changes from cool to warm, and can cause water to enter empty tanks, causing costly damage. Top off both the fuel and the hydraulic oil tanks to eliminate condensation. Store diesel exhaust fuel (DEF) in its original container during the winter. Be sure the tank vent is plugged and keep the container away from any heat and direct sunlight. (For fuel tanks storing ethanol-blended gasoline, be sure to add fuel stabilizer to avoid phase separation of the fuel during storage periods of more than 30 days, Schultheis says.)
  • Adequately lubricate – One of the most effective ways to protect equipment is to make sure it is lubricated well. Refer to the operator instruction book and lubricate as indicated. Grease unpainted metal parts, such as hydraulic cylinder rods, to protect them from the elements.
  • Repair damage – Harvest takes its toll on farmers and equipment alike. Be sure to fix any damage that occurred during the year. This will ensure that broken parts don’t worsen or rust during the winter, and will allow immediate access to the equipment when it is needed next spring or summer.
  • Maintain and clean – At the end of harvest, be sure to remove dust and debris from inside and outside of the equipment. Conduct regular maintenance, such as changing the oil and fluids and checking air pressure in the tires. Protect the air inlet and exhaust from humidity. Lower each linkage fully to avoid pressure buildup in the hydraulic rams, and if possible, slacken the engine accessories’ belt tensioner. Finally, if preferred, remove the battery and store in a dry location.
  • Store equipment – Obviously, the best way to protect equipment is under a roof. However, that is not possible for every farmer. Cover the equipment if left outdoors, and protect computerized mechanisms from sun damage by covering with a cloth. For extra protection, use water-resistant products such as wax to help keep equipment from rusting and causing premature wear.

The FARMS program says hay equipment requires some additional steps to effectively winterize it and help maintain the value of the equipment. Further, when the time comes to cut and bale hay, the window of time may be quite narrow. Having equipment that is ready to go immediately into the field without repair helps hay farmers be more efficient with their time.

To winterize hay equipment, AGCO recommends draining any preservatives housed in the baler; remove tension on round balers’ forming belts and remove the fire extinguisher (water variety) from square balers and store properly.

In addition, inflate tires to the recommended pressure to reduce sidewall damage. Before storing tillage implements, remove soil and apply rust protectant, then store with soil-engaging components raised or on blocks to prevent rust. Hydraulic cylinders should not be stored fully extended. If temperatures increase, hydraulic oil will be confined and high pressure may cause damage to the hydraulic system.

Schultheis points out that balers should have partial bales and all plant material removed. “Drills, planters, air seeders and combines need to be cleaned of seeds and plant material,” he says. “This will reduce rusting and make them less attractive to rodents and other pests that could gnaw on electrical wiring, leading to short-circuits or other electrical problems.”

He adds that compressed air or pressure-washing is a great way to clean caked-on debris and hard-to-reach places. “When water is used to clean surfaces, use only moderate pressure and mild soap, and avoid direct contact with seals and electrical components,” Schultheis says. “Then use compressed air after washing to help dry surfaces. Repaint worn or scratched surfaces with spray paint to protect from corrosion, and apply automotive wax for more protection.

“Follow the storage instructions in the operator’s manual for reducing tension on baler belts, in order to reduce stretch and increase belt life and for removing planter seed plates and other components to relieve pressure on seals, brushes, and seed plates. This will minimize warping and misshaped air seals and seed plates.”

Schultheis says operators should pressure-wash sprayers inside and out with the appropriate detergent to get rid of dirt, grime and chemical residue from tank, booms, frame and undercarriage. “Circulate the cleaning solution for 10 minutes while checking for leaks and repairing them,” he says.

“Remove all filters, screens, tips, pressure gauges and check valves to be washed and stored indoors. Circulate a 50-50 mix of RV antifreeze and water through the plumbing to prevent rust on metal surfaces and keep the pump and valves from freezing. Cap all openings to retain the antifreeze solution in the system and store the sprayer under cover.”