After harvest is over is a good time for farmers to inspect their fields and identify any harvesting problems, says Gary Huitink, agricultural engineer with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Huitink said that improperly adjusted equipment or worn out components may cost farmers money by reducing harvest efficiency. Less grain may be going into the grain tank of the combine, and more grain may be left in the field than you expected.
“When you drive by many fields that have been harvested, there's a lot of volunteer crop coming up,” Huitink said. The reason, he explained, is that soybeans, rice, grain sorghum and corn lost during harvesting has sprouted because of subsequent abundant rain.
“This is a good time of year to assess how good a job you did with your combine during harvest. If you take a closer look at your fields, you may be able to diagnose a problem,” Huitink said.
If the grain has sprouted uniformly over the field, he said, it's probably an indication that the grain never entered the combine; it may be inadequate gathering. Even when losses are excessive, you may not be able to remedy this if the grain is too dry when harvested. Timely harvest, good gathering adjustments and a sharp sickle and good guards help gather well.
Synchronize the reel with your combine travel speed. In addition, replacing sickle and/or guards on the cutter bar may improve the ability to cut grain and get almost all of it into the combine.
On the other hand, if the lost grain is growing primarily in strips, it may be that grain is being discharged from the back of the combine. The amount lost out of the back of the combine can be excessive.
Adjusting some of the combine separating and threshing adjustments during the harvest, according to crop conditions may remedy this.
You may also want to check your threshing unit for excessive wear during the next few months. If needed, replacing the “elephant ears” or worn concaves on rotor combines or worn cylinder bars or concaves will significantly increase combine capacity, as well as reduce field loss, Huitink said.
Better adjustment as you cut the grain may help you get more grain into the combine grain tank.
“If you're gathering a crop while making a turn at the corner of a field, you may see additional losses in that area,” Huitink said. Don't worry, he added. “That's to be expected because gathering is not as efficient unless a curve of standing grain allows a gradual turn.”
Huitink noted that corn growers may need to make corn head adjustments or replace worn snapping rolls if they see a lot of corn sprouting along the rows. “You're snapping, or shelling the corn off the cob on that row,” he said.
Farmers need to get as much crop out of the field as quickly as possible, the specialist noted. But, if they're experiencing excessive grain loss, adjusting equipment or slowing combine speed may be profitable.
Huitink noted that a new combine, which can cost in excess of $200,000, is an expensive investment.
“Your old equipment may still put money in your pocket if you'll do some diagnosis and determine whether doing some maintenance, fine-tuning field adjustments or slowing the combine down at critical areas of the field will correct a problem,” he said.
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.