Preventive and corrective maintenance for tractors and other equipment is a routine on the farm. Preventive maintenance is conducted to keep equipment working and/or extend the life of the equipment while corrective maintenance, sometimes called repair, gets equipment working again. From a soil and crops perspective, let's look at some maintenance that needs to be performed on your operation.
Scouting your crops is important. Don't forget that you are not only in the cattle business - you are marketing your forage crop through your cattle. It is therefore just as important to take care of the pastures and fields as it is your cattle. How long has it been since you have been through your pastures walking, riding or four-wheeling to scout your forage crop? (Going down the road at 45 mph and looking out the windshield of your vehicle doesn't count.) Where are your problem areas? Do you have low spots? Do you have weeds you can control before they get out of hand? Do you need to increase or reduce your fertilization next year? All of these are questions to ponder while scouting your pastures. Consider scouting your forage crop every three to five weeks.
Soil testing can either be preventive or corrective maintenance. Pull a composite soil sample at least once every three years or six months after a lime application (whichever comes first). If you are producing large amounts of hay, consider going to a two-year soil testing regimen. Divide your pastures into management areas by changes in soil types, forage yields, number of weeds, etc. This can assist you in targeting your fertilizer dollar to your most productive fields first. Soil testing is especially important in a hay situation because for every ton of bermudagrass hay that you harvest from your property, you are removing approximately 46 pounds of actual nitrogen, 12 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) and 50 pounds of potassium (K2O). You may be "starving" your plants of phosphorus and potassium (potash). This can lead to stand reduction and reduced nitrogen use efficiency.
How long has it been since you have performed some preventive maintenance on your sprayers? Handheld, backpack, four-wheeler, tractor sprayers - they all need to be checked and calibrated before use, and checked and winterized before winter storage. For more information on winterizing, please read "Take Time To Winterize Sprayers" on our Web site.
If you have a restricted use pesticide license, make sure that you keep up with your training to earn continuing education units (CEUs). Think of the license as a cost of doing business. One of the benefits of keeping up with your training is that you will learn about new products that are better suited to your operation.
Keep up with new products during the slow times of the year. Subscribe to one or more of the trade journals, but remember not to believe everything that you read. Call and visit with your soil and crops consultant if you have questions or want to verify information.
Finally, think safety. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says, "Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries." Ranchers and farmers are at risk for both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Skin disease and heat exhaustion are just a couple of safety risks to consider, so plan to wear a hat and sunscreen when you work outdoors and drink plenty of water.
By doing just a little preventive and corrective maintenance, we can keep our land producing high-yielding forages, maximize the efficiency of our equipment, update ourselves on new technology and stay healthy in the process.