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Clean Farm Equipment Between Fields

September 15, 2020

Combines are one of the largest machines on a farm.

They remove crops from fields and separate grain from other material to be spread back in the field. However, combines retain a significant amount of material following the harvest of just one field.

“They can have as much as 150 pounds of biomaterial, including chaff, grain and the seed of weeds such as Palmer amaranth,” cautions Tom Peters, North Dakota State University Extension sugarbeet agronomist and weed expert. “This material may remain in tight spaces or in obvious places, such as the gathering head and grain tank.”

Angie Johnson, NDSU Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Steele County, urges producers to be especially on the lookout for weeds and pests brought in by equipment from out of state.

During harvest in North Dakota, custom combining units harvest a percentage of crops. Some custom combining units are local, while other units may come from other states, such as Kansas or Nebraska. As custom combining crews move their way into North Dakota for harvest, they can pick up weed seeds and deposit the seeds onto fields here. This is where a problem can blow up quite quickly, especially with a new weed such as Palmar amaranth.

Planting and tillage equipment and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) used in the field also can accumulate mud and debris and move pathogen-infested soil and weed seed from contaminated to clean fields.

While removing all debris isn’t possible, taking the time to clean equipment between fields can reduce the movement of weed seed and other material from one field to another significantly, according to Johnson.

“But before you start cleaning your combine and other farm equipment, take time to put on the proper personal protective equipment (PPE),” she advises.

PPE includes hearing protection, a mask, a long-sleeved shirt and pants, closed-toed shoes, safety glasses and gloves.

Also always shut the machine off when working in direct contact with moving parts, such as when needing to unclog the machine.

Here are some steps for cleaning the combine from the North Central Agricultural and Natural Resources Academy:

  • Run the unloading auger while it is empty for at least one minute.
  • Open the clean grain and tailings elevator doors, rock trap and unloading auger sump. Make sure all bystanders are at least 50 feet away.
  • Start the combine and separator. Adjust the cleaning shoe fan to full speed for maximum airflow. Alternately, open and close cleaning shoe sieves electronically. Also adjust the rotor to full speed for maximum air suction or open and close the concaves. Operate the combine this way for at least two minutes for self-cleaning.
  • Clean out any material left in the rock trap.
  • Use a leaf blower or air compressor to remove material from the exterior of the combine, focusing on the head, feeder house, and axle and straw spreader at the rear of the machine.
  • Close the doors to the rock trap, and clean the grain elevator and the unloading auger sump.

To clean ATVs and planting and tillage equipment, the North Central Agricultural and Natural Resources Academy says you should:

  • Remove all plant material, living and dead.
  • Remove loose clods of soil that have accumulated on tires, wheel wells or fenders.

Here are some tips from the academy for washing ATVs and planting and tillage equipment:

  • Choose the correct nozzle or tip for your power washer and hold the unit 2 to 3 feet from the surface being cleaned. Pre-soaking is recommended to loosen material and increase efficiency, saving time and water during cleaning.
  • Work from the top of the unit to the bottom to avoid biomaterial, soil and debris from running onto the cleaned areas.
  • Use smooth, left to right horizontal motions while covering a 3- to 4-foot area in one pass. This will increase the efficiency of your movement.
  • If you want to use a cleaner, consult the power washer’s operators manual for instructions about the type and volume of cleaner needed. This will help determine what products are recommended or acceptable, as well as any precautions you should take to limit environmental impacts.

To sanitize the equipment, use a 1% bleach solution applied via a backpack or deck (pump) sprayer. Soak surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds with the solution, then thoroughly rinse the equipment to prevent corrosion.

For more information about equipment cleanout, visit

Source: North Dakota State University