As time speeds along in the farming industry, we have seen many changes. When it comes to harvesting corn, the growth in scale and technology has changed drastically over the years. When I was growing up on a John Deere 7700, I was impressed by all of the processes going on inside the machine. Today, that combine is a distant memory, and it has been replaced several times over by newer, bigger, and more efficient machines. Yet across every change and upgrade, the goal has always been to get the crop successfully from the field into the grain tank.
Much of the progress made over time has focused on increasing throughput of the machine and better separation of residue and grain. The corn head has also changed over time, but not at the same pace. Yes, if I look back at the metal snouts, fixed deck plates, and worn stalk rolls, we have made immense progress in the right direction. But, the corn head still has much room for progress. Namely, solutions for two components that would push the corn head towards reaching an ideal state: gathering the grain, and processing the residue to prepare for next year’s crop. And, 360 Yield Center is working toward harvest tools that would push the dial in both these areas.
Looking at corn heads as they currently are, we have learned to cope in a few ways to ensure header loss keeps to a minimum and residue is managed in an effective way. Many of us try to harvest around 20 to 24% moisture to minimize head shell, however, in years like 2015, moisture gets away from us and we end up picking 14% corn by the time we finish. Losing just two kernels per square foot results in a bushel per acre of corn that doesn’t make it in the tank. When corn gets to 15% or less, I would guess that most heads are shelling 3 to 4 bu/A. Hydraulic deck plates were added to many models over the years and this was a great help. If a hybrid had a larger stalk you could open them to take in less trash and if the next hybrid had a spindly stalk you could close them appropriately. Ideally, you could run the deck plates in and out as you cross the field to changing conditions. And for the most ambitious operators, this has become a bit of a sport. However, most folks don’t do this and those that do can’t adjust quickly enough.
If I had my way, I would run the gathering chains slow enough to create a “bed of ears” between the snouts. This would allow ears coming into the head to fall onto a softer surface – rather than metal or poly – thus softening deflection and reducing the amount of kernels that are lost in the process. But, gathering grain effectively is often at odds with the other goal of the corn head: processing residue. In recent years, corn hybrids have become healthier and tougher, plus we are increasing the populations whenever possible. So running the head at a slower speed is counter to sizing residue, and we end up doing both tasks imperfectly.
Solution: 360 YIELD SAVER
Creating a system that enables you to run the head at a speed that suits residue processing and minimizing grain loss will require a different approach. What if we were able to close the gap between the deck plates while allowing corn residue to pass through to the underside of the head where it can be processed? This is where 360 Yield Center’s 360 YIELD SAVER system will come into play. Using a series of pliable paddles running on a belt, we create a false floor between the deck plates that allows stalks to be pulled down by the rolls without letting kernels pass through.
I had an opportunity to work with our engineering department one day this past October to test 360 YIELD SAVER on my farm in Northern Illinois. I wanted to pressure test the system, so I chose a very variable field with a tall, robust hybrid that was starting to get “vertically challenged” in some areas. As we crossed the field, I noticed that it was easier to create the “bed” of ears and run the head at the appropriate speed to manage residue. I wasn’t balancing the two simultaneously as I always had. The big ears in the better ground came in just as expected, and when we crossed the knolls, the nubbins were brought into the head instead of slipping through the deck plates as they had before. 360 YIELD SAVER was not affected by the size of the stalks or how well the stalks were standing in the field. The corn fed in just as before when it was tangled on the ground, and whether the ears were tall or short, or big or skinny, the ears all came into the cross auger along with the loose kernels (14% moisture). Yes, there were a few more leaves that were brought into the machine, but we reduced the loss I had by 75+%. For me, that’s a difference I want to continue to have on my field in 2016.
As I think about the retired farmer that often drives our combine, he is probably not going to chase every last ear with the deck plates as he crosses the field. This accounts for another “on-the-go” adjustment that honestly doesn’t get made as often as it should or could be due to the utter chaos of material coming into the head. Now, we can lean up and look to the right, behind the head (we all do this) and not see kernels on the ground. We can know we are getting everything we worked hard to grow each season.
For more information on 360 YIELD SAVER, see Gregg Sauder’s presentation from Proving Grounds. And, stay tuned for a 360 CHAINROLL season recap from regional agronomy manager, Jamie Brand, to learn more about the beta season of our other harvest tool.