Reducing Harvest Loss Begins at the Header

Half of corn harvest loss and a whopping 80% of soybean harvest loss can occur at the header. It’s easy to overlook adjustments to the header because there aren’t any sensors to tell us what’s wrong. That’s why a relatively quick inspection is well worth your time.

A combine performs five key operations during harvest: cuts the crop; threshes the crop (first part of the rotor); separates the grain from the chaff (back part of the rotor); cleans the grain with fans and the cleaning shoe; and handles the crop to move it through the combine and into the grain cart or wagon. We all do our best to adjust our combines for each of these five areas.

Harvest loss can add up in a hurry as 1 bushel/acre of harvest loss is only 2 kernels of corn or just 4 soybeans per square foot.

Be sure to check the following two areas, which are often overlooked when making adjustments at harvest time:

  • Reel speed is typically set automatically based on tire speed in modern combines. However, you can adjust reel speed on-the-go and stop loss due to changing field conditions. The reel should be hitting soybeans about one-half to 3/4 of the way up the plant and at a speed that lays them back onto the platform. If your reel speed is too fast, it will cause premature shatter losses.
  • Corn harvest loss typically comes from whole ear loss or “butt-shelling” at the deck plates. Whole ear loss can be minimized by installing different things like ear savers for over the throat and at the front of the gathering chains. Upgrades that extend the height of each end of the header help when corn is down. “Butt-shelling” should be adjusted for by adjusting deck plates to stalk size and by making sure there is not extra wear where the ears continually snap.

Adjusting monitors in your combine cab is another area that can have a significant impact on your data collection. Following are a few noteworthy areas for your consideration:

  • Don’t lag behind. Inaccurate Flow Delay is the most common issue with yield mapping. Are you noticing red streaks or a gap at the beginning and ending of each pass? This means the flow delay is not set appropriately. The delay is typically between 10 and 20 seconds. If you see lots of red as you start a pass, increase that time. If you see a gap of data points between the end of a pass and the headlands, you need to decrease the delay.
  • Calibrate. Yield monitors can be off as much as 100%. Even if you diligently calibrated your monitor in corn last year, you must calibrate it again this year in corn. Make sure the moisture sensor is accurate because that calibration also impacts yield calibration. Electronic sensors are especially prone to needing adjustments.
  • Do you run Auto Steer? If you don’t run auto-steer on your combine, you’ll need to adjust the swath width for soybeans if you’re running at an angle or harvesting drilled beans. For example, if you’re leaving about a two-foot gap on a 35-foot header, your swath width should be changed to 33 feet.

Focus on making the adjustments that can have a significant impact on the quality of your data, but don’t sweat the small stuff. For example, if you must stop on a dime for a tile blowout that would swallow your combine or if you skirt around a waterway, that data can be cleaned up later. Feel free to call me if you have any questions or need assistance.