While many farmers are diligent in keeping up with proper maintenance of their farm equipment throughout their working season, care must be taken in equal measure during the colder off season.

Dr. John Buchanan, associate professor and Extension specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, stresses the importance of proper winterization.

“After the land itself,” said Buchanan, “a farmer’s equipment is his biggest investment. In order to get the maximum return on his investment, he needs to do the maintenance, and he needs to protect it from the elements. Is your equipment year-round? Then you’ve got to prepare it for cold weather operations. Is it going to sit until the spring? If so, prepare it for storage.”

He explained that the owner’s manual is not something to throw in a drawer and forget about. “It is hands down your best resource for required and recommended maintenance, appropriate winterization techniques, and especially, to keep you from voiding your warranty,” he stated.

Buchanan added that while many farmers buy secondhand equipment that comes without the manual, they can still find what they need online. “I’ve always found whatever manual I was looking for on the internet. It’s all there!”

What to check for winter equipment hibernation

Dr. John Buchanan, associate professor of biosystems engineering and soil science at the University of Tennessee, offers up tips for extending equipment effectiveness.

Buchanan then offered his basic overview on farm equipment winterization:

  • Fuel – What is the age of your equipment? Your equipment may need different fuel requirements and different lubricants depending on how old it is. Diesel fuel will gel, as waxes in the fuel will solidify. Ultra-low sulfur diesel is worse about gelling. At about 32º F, #2 diesel will start to get cloudy. As it gets colder, paraffin wax will start to solidify. It can then clog the fuel filter. However, #1 diesel fuel has a lower gel point and can be more reliably used in colder temperatures. Unlike gasoline tanks, which should be stored empty, diesel tanks should be kept full of fuel as it prevents condensation as temperatures fluctuate.

Buchanan also strongly encouraged equipment owners to buy 100% gasoline, rather than gasoline mixed with ethanol, for their small engines. “It’s more expensive, but it’s well worth it,” he said.

More likely found at “off-brand retailers,” ethanol-free gasoline can contribute to the longer life of a small-engine machine. “Ethanol absorbs water – it draws in moisture from the air. It causes corrosion of metal parts. Ethanol is also an excellent solvent and will dissolve rubber hoses and plastic fuel tanks,” he noted.

  • Battery – At 32º, a battery loses 65% of its cranking capacity. Buchanan recommends using a trickle charger if the batter is needed during winter. If it’s not needed, owners should disconnect the battery during storage to prevent drain-down. He pointed out that a disconnected battery presents a great opportunity to check its terminals for corrosion.
  • Tires – Cold temperatures mean less pressure in the tires, which can cause tremendous strain on sidewalls. Buchanan recommends regularly checking the pressure of tires to make sure they remain at the recommended PSI reading.

“But you must also make sure that as we come out of the winter, and temperatures rise, that we reduce the pressure if need be,” he added.

  • Sprayers – “Anything that uses water needs to be winterized,” Buchanan said. To prevent ruptures due to freezing, drain the tank, blow out the plumbing with compressed air, add RV antifreeze, run the pump, cycle through the valves and spray until antifreeze comes out of the nozzle.
  • Keep it clean – “Grass and grain make great nests for rodents,” warned Buchanan. Rodents chew on wires. Rodents also attract predators like snakes. “You don’t want either of those in your equipment.”

And nesting rodents can accumulate even more organic material. “This can be a fire hazard. It can also hold moisture, which can cause rust. Either way, you lose,” he said. “Take the time to clean out your equipment and you can avoid all that.”

For more information visit faculty.utk.edu/John.Buchanan/publications.

by Enrico Villamaino