Homemade in the farm shop

MODIFIED FARM MACHINERY CAN IMPROVE EFFICIENCY

SHOW ME A successful farmer and there’s a good chance I can show you a farmer who is pretty handy in the farm machine shop. How often have you heard that old axiom? Whether it’s a quick repair to avoid hours of down time in the field, or re-designing a piece of equipment to make it work better than the manufacturer’s original design, the farm shop just may be the most valuable piece of real estate on the farm.

For Alan Kerkhof, the shop at his Wallaceburg-area farm is almost a “second home” and adapting or modifying machinery such as cultivators, discs or corn planters is regular day-to-day stuff. Alan, with his two brothers Larry and Ron, and their father who at 81 still keeps a hand in the operation, farm some 1600 acres straddling the border of Chatham-Kent and Lambton counties. On a three-year rotation, the acreage is usually split about 1/3 corn, 1/3 soybeans and 1/3 soft red winter wheat.

SPARKING AN INTEREST
“If I wasn’t a farmer I would probably be a design engineer for a farm equipment company,” says Alan, as he explains his interest in machinery. “Judy (his wife) often kids me that I was born with a welding machine and cutting torch in my hands,” he adds with a chuckle.

With some opportunity to experience “shop” during his high school years, Kerkhof’s interest in the nitty-gritty of machinery repairs and modifications took flight when he went to work for a local farm machinery dealership as an equipment mechanic. In 1975 he began farming on his own and quickly “welded” his interest in the shop to his interest in getting the most out of his field crops with precision efficiency of both tillage and harvesting machinery. 

ON FARM APPLICATION
Innovative ideas soon lead to reality in Kerkhof’s machine shop. To facilitate a minimum tillage operation, he adapted a corn planter to fit a cultivator underneath and a grain drill box on top. “You can’t buy one like that,” he says with a note of accomplishment in his voice. “They’re just not commercially available.” The combination unit can be used to plant corn, soybeans or wheat.

In addition to fitting the cultivator and the seed drill box into the unit, Kerkhof rigged the planter with two tanks on top for liquid fertilizer application. “We bought the steel and spent about six weeks in the shop building it,” he says. So good was the concept and assembly that the original unit planted their owned and rented land for about ten years. The family partnership now uses the second generation of Alan’s uniquely designed planter.

One-pass cultivating, planting and fertilizing not only saves fuel but also minimizes compaction of the heavy Brookston clay soils that are dominant in the area. “The less traffic in the spring the better off the crop is likely to be,” says this grain grower who is convinced that knowing when to stay off a field is a key factor in a successful cropping program.

PROBLEM SOLVING
When tight turns with the planter were causing problems, particularly after third wheels were added to stretch the weight load of the tractor, Kerkhof went back to the machine shop to re-design the hitch. Simple enough, he thought, extend the hitch to provide more turning room. The planter now has a hitch extended by about 36 inches and turns in tight corners that no longer result in the wheel hitting the planter (see photo on page 8). This design change has also been applied to the planters of three neighbouring farmers.

Also unique to the machinery line-up on the Kerkhof farm is Alan’s detachable off-set hitch that avoids moving tractor tires when shifting from planting corn or beans to wheat. “It’s a whole lot easier to move the planter over with the off-set than it is to move tractor wheels on the axle,” says the farmer who has a machinery shed housing numerous design improvements.

In 1993, after Kerkhof switched to narrow row (22 inch) corn, he built a side-dress fertilizer applicator.  A few years later he designed and built a land leveller. The commercially manufactured leveller, used by the family partners following the wheat crop in the three-year rotation, was not moving soil to the outside edges. “There were always little pockets that were not being filled,” says Kerkhof. So he sat down with some graph paper, figured out the angles, bought the steel and made a leveller that “does the job.” The longer angles in Kerkhof’s design level the soil out to the edge and the unit also works more effectively in heavy trash conditions.

GETTING THE MOST FROM THE MACHINE
Machinery maintenance and storage go hand in hand on this farm. “We just keep re-building to get the most out of our machinery,” Kerkhof says, noting that most of their equipment has had several years of use. “We may be a bit paranoid about keeping our stuff inside,” he adds, “but the weather, especially the sun, is hard on tires and paint.” 

For this provincial director on the Ontario Wheat Producers’ Marketing Board, hours in the farm shop are hours well spent. Cost savings are significant and “we know it is ready to go when we hook on to it,” Kerkhof says. •