Cleaning machinery at harvest can, understandably, fall by the wayside as pressure mounts. But failing to find the time to blow-down the combine, bailer, trailer and other machinery can spread black-grass between fields and increase production costs for years to come.
BASF spoke with Philip Wright, independent crop consult, and Ed Ford, a cereal grower in Essex about making the process practical when the pressure is on.
“For me it’s about having a procedure that becomes second nature,” says Philip.
“Attention to detail is massively important. It’s hard when there’s too much to do and not enough time, but in the long-term preventing the spread of black-grass at harvest will save tens, if not, hundreds of man- and machinery- hours.”
‘Being thorough’ is the number one piece of advice from Ed.
“Allow time at the end of the day to blow-down the combine; there are two benefits. One, it stops dew from sticking the dust and debris to the machinery overnight, making the job harder come the morning. And two, having showered and dressed for the day, getting covered in dust first thing and having to sit in it is miserable.”
“Take off all the guards, start at the top and spend a good ten minutes getting the majority of the debris off. Then go back to the top and take the time to thoroughly blow-down.”
“It’s a good idea to have someone else double check your work. For health and safety reasons there should be two people anyway, but a second pair of eyes is really useful, especially when you’re a wearing mask and ear defenders. If either of you are not satisfied that all the combine is free from dust and debris go over it again until it is. Attention to detail is key.”
Philip emphasises the need to check all the nooks and crannies. “Dust can build up in all sorts of places. Some are obvious; on top mud guards and the body of the combine, for example, others less so – any tool boxes, chassis members, anywhere there’s a ledge or an edge.”
“Where you choose to clean machinery is important too,” says Philip. “Do it in the field that you’re working in and try to choose a spot that is confined. Wherever you choose, there’s a good chance it will become a problem area. Remember farm tracks are not ideal– seed from resulting plants can be picked up by other vehicles in subsequent years and brought into your fields.”
Ed cleans machinery in gateways where soils are so compact that there’s little chance of weeds growing. He asks contractors to ensure their machinery is clean and asks them to start in the same place each year. Ed recommends using a compressor rather than a leaf blower and leaving fields with the highest populations of black-grass until last. “It further reduces the risk of spreading seed,” he explains.
With shallow cultivation work taking place soon after harvest, Philip points out how rollers, in particular can be a vector for spreading black-grass.
“Some of these weed seeds are very light. Anything that disturbs the soil surface can make them airborne. If you’re working first thing in the morning or late on into the evening when there’s moisture, you can find seed settling on kit and ‘sticking’ to the steel. A film of what looks to be dust soon builds up – that ‘dust’ can actually contain a lot of weed seeds.”
“Soil-to-soil rollers are specifically designed to pick up soil, though any roller will develop a coating around the peripheries. That soil often contains black-grass seed and if not cleaned, when the kit is parked up or worse when you’re using it another field, it’ll drop off.”
“You really shouldn’t be going to a new field really without power washing cultivation equipment, certainly not a new block, and definitely not a new farm if you’re a contractor.”