Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Chris Judd

Settings and

calibration

Before we get too upset with those farmers moving down the road with that large cultivator, corn planter, sprayer or combine at five minutes to eight in the morning when we are trying to get to work only a little bit late, that farmer isn’t showing off his wide, wide implement; he is just trying to get to his field as fast as he can to start his 20-hour day. That implement that is still 18 feet wide is also likely 16 feet high before he lets down the wings in the field to make it 30 feet wide. That enormous sprayer that looks like a car could drive underneath it will widen out from 20 feet wide to a hundred-foot boom width in the field. The larger the machine, the faster the operator can make a thousand-dollar mistake in the field, so that operator has a lot more going through his head than just getting safely to the field or back home.
About 10 years ago, a farmer in western Ontario was coming home from planting corn about the same time that the sun was going down, but still very bright. Many corn planters are 16 feet wide, even when folded up for road transport. Some poor driver in a car was also in a hurry to get home and while meeting the tractor-corn planter, with the sun in his eyes, didn’t stay out wide enough to miss its frame. The planter frame (even though marked with a large reflective sign), went through the car corner post and windshield and decapitated the car driver. This happened only a few feet from where the farmer was to turn in his laneway. Even though a lengthy inquest proved that the farmer was innocent, he still has nightmares about that accident and his neighbour, the car driver, is in the cemetery. This type of accident happens almost every year somewhere in Noth America.
All those machines must be recalibrated regularly to assure the operator that the correct amount of fertilizer, seed, manure or spray is being precisely applied. Most corn planters can be adjusted to plant corn at approximately 18,000 seeds per acre, and readjusted to plant soybeans at 35,000 seeds per acre. Some times the operator only has to change the seed plates, sometimes he has to change the sprockets that drive the seeding mechanism faster or slower. Sometimes both changes must be made correctly. One spring before going to start to plant corn, I changed the seed drum, but forgot to change the sprockets. Luckily, I planted only a small 10-acre field before checking the seed hopper. I was very surprised that so much corn had been used. That fall, we had to chop that corn field for silage instead of using it for grain corn. We did have a great yield of corn silage because there was enough fertility in the field and a great growing season, however, I did use a couple hundred dollars more corn seed than needed.
The year after I returned home from college, we purchased a little weed sprayer to reduce the weeds in both grain and corn fields. The man (Everett) that sold us the sprayer spent a whole day with me, showing me how to calibrate the sprayer, using only water from pump delivery compared to ground speed and pressure used to calibrating each nozzle separately and at different pressures. Although each nozzle tip is marked to tell how much chemical-water mix is delivered per acre at a specific pressure, those tips can wear with the thousands of gallons of spray material going through them, and sometimes new nozzle tips can be marked wrong. Even new computer-controlled sprayers must be checked to ensure correct calibration. Manure spreaders, fertilizer spreaders, and seed drills must also be calibrated to assure the same amount of material is being applied as the machine tells you. Sometimes you may see narrow strips of weeds growing in a field. That can be a plugged sprayer tip or maybe the sprayer isn’t quite as wide as the operator thought it was. The neighbours will remind the owner about that and it will probably never happen again.
I once had the opportunity to attend a day session on setting up a combine before it was sold. We were shown that spending a complete day setting up a combine correctly before going to the field could safe hundreds of hours of frustration and work later on trying to correct mistakes. Even with this pre-delivery work being done correctly, a good combine operator will spend hours fine-tuning the combine in the field to get every grain in the tank with no trash, and no grain going out the back of the combine that can grow into those tell-tale green strips in the field that the neighbours will laugh at.
When Canada switched from the imperial system to the metric system it left many of our population asking why. Luckily for our farmers, a hectare is about 2.2 acres, and one kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. This made conversion for planting, fertilizing, and harvesting much easier to get used to. When I’m trying to convert my tire pressure from kilopascals to psi, I’m sure happy to have that little switch on the dash.
When I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with some new technological machine that is not doing as it should, I am reminded what my best mechanic friend once told me: “The difference between a mechanic and a great mechanic is that a great mechanic knows how to, and when to, read the service manual.” A smart old farm friend once told me, “a big machine can get you farther into trouble faster than a small one, maybe start with the small one first.”
Recently, we have been exposed to a lot of information both well-researched and not-so-well-researched about the advantages and disadvantages of burning garbage. There seems to be quite a bit left to learn yet, both in agriculture and many other research subjects. China has recently (two years ago for agriculture) taken the lead in the world of research. Luckily, even in China, the language of research has been English. This makes it much easier for us to investigate and understand. Fifty years ago, on the front page of a major agricultural machine company’s service manual was written, “Knowledge is power” and every time that I talk to a very smart person, I am reminded of that statement.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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