A job worth doing is worth doing right — and when it comes to harvesting crops it couldn't be truer.
Before taking to the field this fall, consider these tips from crop consultants, Extension specialists and professional harvesters to make your harvest more efficient and less stressful.
- ASSESS FIELD HEALTH.
Dwight Koops, Crop Quest western region vice president in Ulysses, KS, recommends that growers evaluate late-season crop health to make sure they harvest fields with potential standability problems first. “Producers will also want to watch for potential stalk rot, corn borer or stem borer problems in soybeans. Be aware of which hybrids dry down more quickly than others,” Koop says.
- CALIBRATE YIELD MONITORS.
Taking the time and patience to calibrate a yield monitor properly can go a long way when it comes time to make important decisions from your yield data, says Randy Taylor, Extension machinery specialist at Oklahoma State University.
“You want to know how well it's doing at both high and low flow rates, and make sure that the impact plate and moisture sensors are clean before you start,” he says. “The information is extremely valuable, so make sure it's as accurate as possible.”
- WATCH MOISTURE LEVELS.
“Fishing around for dry corn can cost money, especially at today's fuel prices,” Koops says. “Therefore, taking the time to find out which fields are ready to harvest before all the equipment is brought to the field should help efficiency.” He suggests having a quality moisture tester on hand to avoid hauling excess water to town and taking a dock.
- EVALUATE FIELD LOSS OFTEN.
Checking behind the combine to determine field loss is important, says Mark Hanna, agricultural and biosystems engineer at Iowa State University. “Many of the losses occur at the head of the machine; making sure that you have things adjusted appropriately is valuable,” he says. “In reasonable operating conditions, loss is approximately 2 kernels/sq. ft., which equals about 1 bu./acre of loss. Combine operators should be striving for that figure — or less.”
Adjustment and clearance on deck plates is important, as well as making sure that the ear savers are present and in good repair to keep ears from bouncing out of the head, Hanna says. Losing entire ears adds up in a hurry.
- OPTIMIZE MACHINERY WITH ADJUSTMENTS.
“Make the adjustments on your combine one at a time in order to evaluate what's going on,” Hanna says. “Be prepared and allow time to check on settings in the field. Ordinarily, you want to start at the lower speed setting and then adjust up while maintaining grain quality.”
The idea is to get as much crop-on-crop threshing as possible. When the kernels rub against each other to loosen from the cob, it's much more gentle than rubbing against steel.
Crops have the potential of being higher in moisture this year, Hanna says, which puts a premium on machine setup. “Corn cobs are going to be higher in moisture content, as well, and could be spongier,” he adds. “It's going to put a focus on making sure you get the rotor cylinder speed and concave clearance set appropriately.”
- CAPITALIZE ON TEAMWORK.
Communication between the combine and cart or truck drivers is critical to maximize efficiency, says Lance Johnson, CEO of Johnson Harvesting Inc., Evansville, MN, a business with 48 years of harvesting experience. “The combine driver has to assist the cart driver in their operation. Both operators need to know where they will meet next and the most efficient way to make this happen,” he says.
“The best combine operator is one who knows how to run a grain cart efficiently. Any time you can have a full grain cart at the end of the field where the truck is located makes the cart much more productive and reduces field compaction considerably,” Johnson says.
- THROTTLE BACK WHEN POSSIBLE.
While your combine has to run wide open, there is opportunity to throttle back your tractor, Taylor says. “If you can, throttle back a bit. You can still get a lot done if you're not overloading the engine and you'll use less fuel. Think about logistics — the location of your grain cart, your truck and how you harvest your fields — so that you spend less idle time with the machines running.”
- CONSISTENCY TOPS HURRIEDNESS.
One major harvest blunder Johnson notices is that haste often makes waste. “Hastening harvest doesn't make things go faster; in fact that is when problems and accidents occur,” he says. “Any employer who tells an employee to ‘hurry up’ simply made the mistake of not managing his operation efficiently before they got behind schedule. Steady and consistent always wins over fast and furious at the end of the day; it also puts the most bushels in the bin.”
- TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND RELAX.
Jim Gleason, Crop Quest eastern region vice president in St. John, KS, encourages producers to slow down a little and be safe.
“Taking short breaks throughout the day will aid in staying mentally alert while fighting off fatigue,” Gleason says. “It is a proven fact that more accidents happen when you are worn out or distracted. Also, the driver should always be aware of his surroundings and pay special attention when children are in the area.”