The agriculture community faces many threats, but perhaps nothing is more debilitating to the livelihood of farmers than corrosion. Statistics tell the story.

According to protectant maker Nyalic, Jasper, Ga., rust costs the United States farming community $1.1 billion every year. It’s not just U.S. farmers, either. NACE International found the global cost of corrosion is $2.5 trillion, which is 3.4% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). Production downtime, equipment repair and reduced yield all result from equipment corrosion.

While corrosion’s impact on farm equipment is unlikely to be fully negated – and maybe even accurately accounted – some manufacturers are producing equipment that help solve corrosiveness.

J&M Manufacturing of Ohio is now manufacturing a Para-Linkage coulter that is used on its NitroGro nitrogen applicators. Self-lubricating bearings on the coulter withstand the corrosive environment, but the machine also offers other benefits. It reduces fertilizer loss, saves time and improves yield. The coulter includes a spring-loaded parallel arm assembly that keeps a disk and knife in the ground to apply liquid fertilizer via the knife. The device also helps farmers cover more acreage in less time and offers greater durability.

The Para-Linkage coulters and row closers are used in crop fields where conditions vary from region to region but are especially helpful in tight planting windows. Corn, for instance, is usually planted in a 1-month window between April and May. 

“Liquid nitrogen fertilizer is corrosive to raw steel,’’ says Austin Franz, a design engineer at J&M. “It is only used between 2 and 4 weeks a year depending on the size of the farm. The time to get nitrogen fertilizer on the crop is critical, so any slowdown — such as daily greasing — can lead to reduced yields, which means reduced profits.”

Solving Volatilization

While the Para-Linkage coulter helps farmers deal with corrosion, J&M’s engineers focused on another issue in their design. The company sought to solve problems with volatilization — a loss of nitrogen through the conversion of ammonium to ammonia gas, which is released to the atmosphere.

The industry standard is to use a single-pivot-point-style coulter in which the knife is behind the coulter and swings up and out of the ground faster than the blade. That process can lead to the nitrogen being placed on top of the ground where volatilization can occur and results in costly fertilizer loss. Fertilizer costs soared during 2022, and while they have fallen lately, farmers are still paying nearly 50% more for fertilizer than they were in 2022.

The parallel design keeps the knife and blade at the same level, parallel to the ground as it engages, helping to keep more nitrogen in the ground where it can be retained. The only other parallel design on the market uses bronze bushings and grease zerks in the pivot points.

“The primary goal of the design was to get a coulter that reduces the amount of fertilizer loss via volatilization at a reasonable cost,’’ Franz says. “The only other option on the market was rather pricey, so J&M decided to design its own variation to give our customers another option that provides the same fertilizer savings at a more competitive price.”

Self-Lubricating Bearings

J&M designed the coulters with bearings from Igus, a Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics, in all pivot locations. The coulter has 5 pivot locations with an additional bearing on the optional row closer.

The bearings – called iglide G – are resistant to dirt, dust and high wear. They are used in an assortment of industries, including automotive, construction, machine tools and fitness or physical therapy equipment. Components from Igus, which runs its North American operations from Providence, R.I., are self-lubricating.

The number of coulters used on one of J&M’s NitroGro nitrogen applicators ranges from 11 on a 30-foot toolbar to 37 on a 60-foot toolbar. “The time savings really adds up quickly,’’ Franz says. “If all 5 spots needed grease, it would take around 25 seconds per zerk on average. So, on a 25-row applicator with 5 zerks per row, that adds up to 52 minutes. With that time, not even including extra time to change grease tubes or anything else, a farmer can cover a lot of ground.”

In an environment in which time is essential, Franz says farmers can cover far more acreage with the company’s coulter in addition to the benefits of reduced fertilizer loss. More crops and less maintenance mean a bigger financial return. “A farmer going 8 mph with the 25-row, 60-foot applicator can cover approximately an acre every minute,’’ he says. “That's 52 extra acres accomplished in a day, and over 10 days of run time it is 520 acres — well over a day's worth of applying nitrogen.”

Delivering Durability

With the corrosion-resistant properties of the bearings, Franz says coulters could last a minimum of 7 years in the field before needing to replace some of the bearings. 

“The number of years that equipment lasts depends on the number of acres they cover, and on the type of ground they have as well as farming practices like conventional till versus no-till,’’ he says. “Smaller farmers will have more years of use before needing to replace the bearings.”

The bearings work in an oscillating motion with increasing load the further it oscillates. The bearing needs to withstand the load in the dirty environment and ideally saves the user time by eliminating some maintenance.

“Poly and greaseless bearings are becoming more common in the agricultural field, and farmers understand how much time savings are involved in reduced maintenance,’’ Franz says. “We have had no problems selling these. This is the second year fully offering them, and over 95% of the coulters we sold are this Para-Linkage coulter with the Igus bushings.”