Get more out of your combine by keeping more in it

By Matt Reese

With combines rolling around the state, crop producers are experiencing no shortage of aggravation resulting from the variation in the crops, particularly corn. Farmers are reporting that, even within just a few yards, corn yields can go from near zero to over 200, which makes setting up the combine to preserve as much of the crop as possible a real guessing game.

“Be patient and let the machines get filled up and make sure you have the rotors full so the rotors and cleaning system perform like they are supposed to,” said Andy Uhland, with AGCO. “With the drier conditions, it has been easier to get flotation pressure set and smoother hugging of header height control without having to fight mud and wet conditions.”

While some things do work better in the dry, low yielding conditions out there, there are some important adjustments to get more out of your combine by keeping more in it.

“It’s all a game you play with your ground speed and how tight you want your sieve,” said Cole Sanford, New Holland cash crop specialist.  “The biggest thing to remember is the flow across the cleaning shoe. In high yielding corn or higher moisture corn, you typically have to have it a little more open. When you get into corn that is half the yield that guys are used to, and the moisture is still a little high, you need to set the machine a little tighter or increase the ground speed. When you start increasing the ground speed, you need to maybe tighten the deck plates or increase the header speed. You also need to keep an eye on header loss because when guys are seeing half the yield, that extra kernel or two you’re losing at the head becomes more crucial. Those are few things the operator needs to look at. On a New Holland CR, we can adjust the pre-sieve and that gives us the ability tighten everything up and, in a round about way, increase the flow across the shoe.”

If there is grain loss, it can be tough to know where the problem is coming from.

“A lot of guys will use a kill stall that locks all of the drives up and does a snapshot of what is in the machine,” Sanford said. “We can do it through a touch screen display and we can take a look at the pre-sieve area, the grain pan, the top sieve, the bottom sieve and even the return volume. You can also look at the material that goes through the feeder right behind the rotors, which is another good spot to look for overall loss in the machines. You can look at those things and make our best judgment on which thing needs changed.”

Once there is some idea of the source of the problem, Sanford recommends making limited adjustments.

“The 101 of combines, regardless of the color of the machine, is to only make one or two changes throughout,” he said. “If you make five changes we could create four more problems and solve the one and we don’t know what we did to fix it.”

More often than not, though, the biggest sources of loss are from the header.

“One of the big culprits for grain loss in a dry year, when the corn has dried down extremely fast, is head loss. Take some extra time and focusing on making sure that all of the hydraulic deck plates or stripper plates are adjusted accurately,” said

Jeff Gray, Product Coordinator for Lexion Combines. “You need to get full range out of your deck plates and you may need to adjust them so they close tighter for the smaller ears and the smaller stalks that we may be experiencing this year.”

Gray said that paying extra attention to the corn head really pays off.

“I am seeing a lot of grain loss out here in the fields. Some of that grain is starting to sprout and a lot of that has fallen out of the corn head. Make sure you’re knife rollers are good and sharp and that you’re starting with fresh edges so you don’t have any resistance built up in the header. Check your stripper plates to make sure they are not worn and replace them if they are worn,” Gray said. “Make sure you optimize your header speed if you have a variable speed feeder house drive that can also control the header. Make sure you have the speed adjusted for the crop conditions that you are in.”

Keeping the header full as it moves through the field is important, but that can be challenging with the variability out there.

“The variability makes for a challenge when setting the combine. When I set a combine, I like to take a good average of the cob size from the field. I measure the diameter average and that is usually what I set my concave to. If I am running a round bar style concave, I will adjust it to the cob diameter or maybe a millimeter or two over. If I am using a large wire concave, which is a little more aggressive, I will set it to at least two or maybe three millimeters over cob diameter. I don’t want to be so tight that I crush the cob, especially in a year like this where the cobs may be immature and spongy,” Gray said. “Right now, the crop is dry. Make sure that you are really mindful of harvesting a dry crop. You don’t want to use a high speed because the kernels are going to come off of the cob very easily. It is also important to remember that residue management is important for next years crop, especially in no-till or conservation tillage.”

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