Equipment failure can cause major financial setback

Technology is great when it works. However, one of the greatest risks faced by farms has become high tech machinery that doesn’t perform as intended.


The official list of farm hazards includes flooding, disease, fire, drought, hail, low grain prices, high input costs, death, disability and divorce. Machinery problems should be added to that list.


This includes both used equipment and new. 


With used equipment, there may not be any guarantees or support, particularly if the purchase was private or through auction. If you buy through a dealership, you can expect varying degrees of support for unexpected problems.


When something is clearly broken, it needs to be fixed. You pay the price, both in repair and the lost time, and you move on. 


It’s a much bigger concern when the problem can’t be clearly defined and numerous attempts at a fix miss the mark.


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The nastiest surprises can come with new equipment where you assume warranty protection has everything covered. While that’s usually the case, you don’t have to look very hard to find horror stories. Maybe you have some of your own. If you don’t, you probably know a neighbour who has had a bad experience.


The increasing complexity of machines and the integration of software and electronics means the problem isn’t always easy to diagnose. It gets even more complicated if there are two or more interrelated problems to sort out. 


What if the Tier 4 emission equipment on your new tractor continually shuts it down, and you have to call the dealer almost every day to override the system and get it running again. The mechanics can’t sort it out, and you end up losing many days of seeding time. 


It’s even more common to have problems with a new seeder, such as inconsistent seeding depth, improper seeding rates, poor seed and fertilizer distribution or blockage issues. It isn’t always easy to identify seeding issues at the time, but terrible surprises can emerge with the crop.


New seeder prototypes should be extensively tested, but sometimes inherent design problems aren’t identified until many units are out in the field operating under a wide range of conditions. Other times, a particular machine is a dud. Component parts are faulty or there were problems in the assembly. 


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The dealer and the manufacturer may argue over who is responsible and how the problem should be fixed. The level of support will vary from one manufacturer to the next and one dealership to the next, but in most cases, they won’t take the machine back and refund your money. Nor will they provide a new machine to replace the faulty one. 


The cost from lost seeding days and/or thousands of acres with seed depth or blockage issues can be enormous. Your neighbours harvest 50 bushel per acre canola crops and you barely get 35, or your late-maturing wheat crop has frost and weathering damage and grades No. 3 instead of No. 1.


Good luck getting any compensation for these sorts of crop losses. They are difficult to prove, hard to quantify and expensive to litigate. 


That new or new-to-you piece of equipment should be a great advancement for your farm, but do your research and test it out in advance if you can. Otherwise, it could be a source of financial loss.


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Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.