Harvesting short wheat
If harvesting with a conventional header, maintain the cutting height as high as possible to preserve standing stubble. Typically, cutting wheat at two-thirds of its full height will result in losses of less than 0.05 percent as any missed heads contain grain that will be lost as tailings during the harvesting process.
In addition to material conveyance and cutting height, lower yields and uneven crop flow may also require performing combine adjustments to the concave/rotor cage clearance, cylinder/rotor speed, and fan speed. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. The leading cause of grain damage under almost any harvesting condition is overly fast cylinder or rotor speed. This will especially be evident in harvesting short wheat as there will be less material in the concave or rotor cage to thresh against, increasing the likelihood of grain damage if cylinder/rotor speed is too high.
On conventional machines it may be necessary to reduce concave clearance to attain good separation. On rotary combines it may be advantageous to maintain a typical clearance to provide a more normal threshing condition while using less threshing area. The use of blanking plates on the rotor cage may improve separation. You may have to lower the fan speeds slightly to minimize grain losses. Once adjusted properly, try to keep material crop flow as constant as possible as most threshing and cleaning units work best under these constant flow conditions. As the amount of material passing through the combine decreases the response to various settings such as cylinder/rotor speed, concave/rotor cage clearance, and fan speed will be more sensitive than under more normal operating conditions.
Performing kill-stops during harvest will be especially critical in evaluating grain losses and identifying which stage of the harvesting process is the source. After performing a kill-stop the operator should look at shattered grain losses before the header, losses after the header and before the spread pattern of the combine, and losses in the tailings behind the combine. Losses can be quickly checked by looking at the number of seeds in the tailings and elsewhere around the combine.
Typically, 20 seeds per square foot is equal to 1 bushel per acre for a sampling area equal to the cutting width of the combine. For the tailings area, where the material is concentrated, multiple the 20 seeds per square foot by the header-to-tailings width ratio. For example, a combine with a 7-foot spreader width and 28-foot header would have a factor of 4, and 80 seeds per square foot would be the correct number for a bushel-per-acre loss. Also, a normal shoe length is typically one foot, so estimated measurements can be done with your foot. Individual field and header losses are determined by looking at areas before and under the combine. Actual combine threshing losses are determined by subtracting these numbers from the tailing loss.
Although this maybe a rough year for many farmers, some changes can be made to help maximize harvest efficiencies. If you have ever wanted to try an alternate header (stripper, flex-draper, etc.), this maybe the year for you. For those not wanting to buy, renting may also be an option.
Producers in dryland production systems need to keep in mind that in very low-yielding wheat years anything that can be done to preserve what little crop residue is present will have huge impacts on evaporative losses and productivity of the next crop.
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