Team FIN farmers share their current buying and repair strategies for improving on-farm efficiency.

With grain prices low, you may be delaying major equipment purchases for a while. The challenge now becomes how to keep existing equipment operating like new to achieve maximum productivity and curb costly breakdowns.

We asked Team FIN, our group of savvy input buyers, what purchases, upgrades or repairs they have made this past year. Responses range from aggressive maintenance schedules to homespun add-ons that add entirely new functions to late-model equipment.

The benefit? You may be able to duplicate some of these same strategies in your own shop.

Steve Webb

Needham, IN

Farmers in southern Indiana have been hit with four bad springs in a row, according to Webb. "It has been late, and there have been acres not planted because it has been too wet," he says.

To weather the conditions, Webb is holding on to equipment longer, limiting his capital purchases and keeping an eye on tax ramifications.

With commodity prices like they are, I may investigate retreads," Webb says. Olson Tire Service in Mount Pleasant, MI, is advertising retreads for 30 to 40% of the cost of new tires. "The true cost is probably more like 50% of new tires, but you can still save money as long as you have sound casings," Webb says.

He frequents farm auctions for good deals and recently came across a fertilizer spreader (shown), previously owned by his local fertilizer dealer. "The spreader sold for $600, and before the first season we replaced two tires and converted the drive shutoff from manual to hydraulic," Webb says.

He is in the process of shopping for a little-used New Holland or Case combine to replace his Gleaner. But to keep the Gleaner running well in the meantime, he rebuilt the four-row corn head, which cost approximately $3,000 for parts and labor.

Before the first of the year, Webb bought a few small-ticket items - including a new auger for his corn planter to move dry starter fertilizer - to claim as a deduction on his 1998 tax returns. "It's tax management," he says. "I didn't quite use up the 179B election, so when I bought an item before 1999, I could use all of that deduction immediately."

Gary andJack Appleby

Atwood, IL

"The farm economy hasn't really affected Gary and me as far as buying or maintenance," says Jack Appleby. "We're pretty conservative."

They spend each January and February in the shop rebuilding their equipment. Last winter they rebuilt their John Deere 7000 16-row corn planter, spending about $2,500 in parts versus what it would have cost to buy new. "We replaced bearings, bushings and anything we thought that might go wrong," Jack says. The most costly of those replacements were new bean meters at $90 each (shown). "At first, we thought that was a lot to pay, but it was worth it," Jack says. The new meters provide better metering and spacing than the originals, in which the beans "dribbled" out, Jack says.

In the future, the Applebys may send the planter to their nearby junior college, where trained John Deere technicians will rebuild it to current model specifications. "It would be nice to have another set of eyes look at it," Jack says. Labor is free, and the farmer pays for the parts.

Last year, they also rebuilt their Great Plains no-till drill for around $1,500. Parts included bushings and new fluted-style coulters (shown) to help cut through residue and penetrate the ground. "We're working on trading the drill for a 12/23 split-row planter for beans, probably a Kinze," Jack says.

For harvesting, they bought an Ag Leader yield monitor for their 1680 Case IH combine at a cost of $3,500. They also own a 9600 John Deere combine with 2,000 hrs. on it. They plan to rebuild it this year and spend an estimated $4,000 to $6,000.

Rolland Schnell

Sully, IA

Although he has replaced some aging equipment with new to hold down repair costs, Schnell is reconstructing and refurbishing other equipment to conserve working capital. For example, this past fall he and his son Jason constructed a seven-shank deep ripper plow using materials from an old mounted chisel plow, an old field cultivator frame, a row-crop cultivator frame, and coulters from an anhydrous applicator. "We used the tool on 250 acres this fall, and it worked great, especially when you consider that it only cost us a couple days in the shop and the cost of a night out for pizza," Schnell says.

Over the winter, he reconstructed a wrecked Freightliner FLD 120 semi-tractor (shown). "It blew a front tire, left the road and hit a tree, leaving it with broken radiators, a smashed hood and windshield, and dents from a branch falling on the cab. By purchasing the truck wrecked, I should save thousands of dollars using my labor to repair it."

Before planting, he plans to completely inspect a Krause 6300 Landstar, a one-pass tillage tool, which will include replacement of bearings on all of the rolling components. He purchased this unit, which was tested against a Glencoe 6000 for Farm Industry News three seasons ago.

He also will refurbish his 8630 4-wd John Deere tractor. Work will include replacing axle bearings, putting on new tires and giving it a fresh paint job. "Some of the work can be considered normal repair on an older tractor," Schnell says, "but the cost of refurbishing will be considerably less than the $130,000 to replace it."

Raymond Carrier

Monmouth, IL

With corn at about $1.90 and beans around $5, Carrier says he has no upgrades planned for 1999. "The bulk of farmers have pulled in their horns, so to speak," he says. Last year, however, he traded his John Deere planter and drill for a new Kinze 2600 12/23 interplant that can plant 12 rows of corn in 30-in. rows and 23 rows of beans at 15- in. rows. He leases the rest of his equipment, and most of it stays in good condition and has the latest features.

Carrier performs all of his own preventive maintenance but relies on dealer technicians for repairs involving electronics. "With all the electronics and computers on tractors, the shade-tree mechanic is out," he says.

Scott McPheeters

Gothenburg, NE

McPheeters used his skills in oxyacetylene and arc welding for many of his equipment upgrades in the last year. Augers were his major focus. He rebuilt the clean grain cross auger, the grain tank cross augers and all three sections of the unloading auger on his two-year-old Case IH 2188 combine by welding 1/4-in. steel rods on the leading face of the flighting immediately inside its outer circumference (shown). He also replaced the bottom section of flighting on several loadout augers (shown) with Super Edge brand replacement. "The outer edge is rolled to be twice the ordinary thickness," McPheeters says.

"Some of the other things are not big items, but they make life easier and improve efficiency of our machinery and labor," he adds. For example, on the fertilizer applicator used on his ridge-till corn, he installed a 11/2-in. main supply hose from the nurse tank to allow ammonia to flow in colder conditions and improve accuracy of application. He constructed a boom to support the hose between the nurse tank and toolbar to prevent the hose from being damaged or the coupler from coming unscrewed (shown). He also installed B-33 Mole knives on the applicator made by Hi-Pro Manufacturing, Watseka, IL, to better penetrate hard soils. The knife has a 11/2-in.-wide foot that lifts the soil and breaks it up over a 4- to 5-in. area to reduce compaction and help seal in anhydrous.

On his planter, he built a reservoir for chain cases to prevent oils from bubbling over on hot afternoons. The reservoir also serves as a built-in funnel to make it easier to add heavy gear lube.

He also plumbed his cultivator toolbars to allow for over-the-row banding of herbicide at times when the cultivator is unable to get target weeds. "This involves a solenoid so that when herbicide backup is not needed, it can be turned off from the cab, saving chemical expense," he says.

Bradley McIntoshHannah, ND

In two years, McIntosh, who raises wheat, barley and canola in addition to running a 65-head cow-calf operation, hopes to upgrade to a bigger tractor, a bigger combine or both. But for now he is doing routine maintenance and repairs as needed to keep both machines running.

His 2-wd 4630 John Deere tractor has 9,000 hrs. on it. After every 1,000 hrs. he puts on it, he brings it to the local dealership to check the rear end, wheel bearings, injectors, camshafts and other major components.

He has a 19-yr.-old pull-type combine. He says his next one will also be a pull-type but twice as big. "We're in the process of changing cropping systems," he says. "Whereas before we planted wheat, barley and canola, we're starting to get into beans."

He is thinking about hiring out some of the combine work for beans, based on his experience with having fertilizer custom-applied. Each year he pays $4/acre for custom applications of anhydrous ammonia. The cost is twice as much as if he applied it himself, but it frees up his time to tend to his livestock and also ensures the application will be made in a timely manner before the ground freezes. "They have bigger equipment, fewer interruptions and can do twice as much as I could in a day," he says.

Daryl Bridenbaugh

Pandora, OH

"We had excellent yields in northwest Ohio, and in spite of the low grain prices, my area dealers have been selling new and used machinery," Bridenbaugh reports.

Last fall, Bridenbaugh updated his harvesting equipment. He replaced the original straw-walkers on his Gleaner L-3 combine with aftermarket ones made by Schmidt Machine Company in Upper Sandusky, OH. "They are a better design than the originals and cost less. Corn doesn't stick to them," he says. He also bought a SCH cutterbar, distributed by S.I. Distributing in St. Marys, OH. "The sickle sections bolt on easily and it does a good job of cutting soybeans," he claims.

Bridenbaugh also took the time this year to put reflective tape on all hopper wagons (shown). He bought it from his local Farm Bureau office, but you also can get it through Gempler's catalog.

The only add-on to his tractors were breakaway mirrors from Tractor Mirrors, Amboy, IL, which he tested on his large Allis (see Mid-February issue, page 50). However, he made several tractor repairs, including new gears for his 4320 John Deere. He paid $1,800 for parts, plus $1,500 for labor.

To keep dust and dirt out of the tractor hydraulic system, he bought MagnaCap magnetic dust covers for the tractors' hydraulic couplers (shown). The dust covers are made in Perryton, TX. "They work so well that even my Deere dealer's repairmen were impressed," he says.

To keep his tractors looking like new, he has them repainted every five years and touched up and waxed in between times. When repairs are needed, he often finds parts at the combine and tractor salvage yards nearby. He consults dealer mechanics on whether it would be wiser to put new or used parts on the equipment. "For example, they said to use new gears on my Deere because they are better designed and forged than when the tractor was built," he says.

Bridenbaugh rents a different tillage tool each year. This year he plans to rent a Tye Paratill. "My dealer said that people with GPS in their combines can see yield increases where the Paratill was used," he says.