Adjust combine settings to salvage most from droughty fields
The effects of this summer's drought conditions will continue into harvest, drying and storage. Paying special attention to each of these activities, especially in dryland crops, will help reduce further losses.
In many dryland fields, yields will be low, making it difficult to keep enough material flowing into the combine to effectively thresh the crop without excessive damage to kernels and beans. Combine adjustment is the key to preventing excessive damage.
One possibility is to increase field operating speed. This will only be successful if corresponding adjustments are made to all header controls. Gathering chain, snapping roll and reel speeds will have to be increased with higher field speeds.
Be sure to monitor both the amount and the evenness of material flow through the header to the feeder house. Uneven flows will indicate improper adjustments and can result in increased grain damage or combine plugging. Remember to adjust stripper plate and snapping roll openings on your corn head to compensate for potentially smaller ears and stalks.
Another solution to the decrease in material flowing through the combine is to adjust the cylinder or rotor speed and concave clearance. Check your owner's manual to set the machine for expected conditions and make refinements as field conditions change. Remember that the variation in yield and grain moisture content from dry areas of the field to not-so-dry areas will be more pronounced this year and you will have to be on your toes when it comes to in-field adjustments.
As if the variations in yield weren't enough to worry about, dry years also tend to cause decreases in test weight and smaller kernels or beans. Fan speed and sieve openings should be adjusted to compensate for this. Again, start with the owner's manual settings and fine tune as you go.
Unfortunately, maturity of different parts of the plants will likely be off schedule this year. Stalks may dry faster or slower than the ears, depending on the variety and severity of stress. This can increase the potential for lodging and pod or ear losses as the fall progresses. This, coupled with a potential increase of stress-induced diseases, may cause producers to consider harvesting at the upper range of moisture content to prevent field losses and storage problems. The decrease in vegetation in the field should speed in-field drying, but could increase shatter losses if over-drying occurs.
Drying grain for storage also will be tricky this year. Those variations in crop moisture content that made combine adjustments necessary will also cause grief when drying and storing the crops. Over-drying, under-drying, and decreases in already low test weights could all contribute to storage problems and crop marketability. Decrease the dryer temperature and consider relying more on combination drying or natural-air drying and aeration to minimize test weight losses and more evenly dry the entire grain mass.
Lighter test weights and potentially higher amounts of trash going into bins could make "coring" a necessity to remove fines and foreign matter from the center of all bins, including those with spreaders. Coring also will make crop insurance yield measurement more accurate since it tends to level the surface of the grain in the bin. Remember to take measurements relative to the yield from each field to get a more accurate accounting of drought-related losses.