Raise header height
The war being waged on residue, particularly in corn-on-corn fields, has an unlikely ally in the “traditional” corn head.
Note the emphasis on traditional.
“There is a wide variety of alternative corn heads on the market that process stalks on-the-go,” says Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska engineer. “They certainly get the job done, although performance varies by the different designs. Some chop stalks, others lacerate the residue, while still others crush stalks.”
Those designs range from simple rotary knives spinning under snapper rollers to more aggressive rollers that chop, lacerate, or crush stalks.
Raise your head up first
Jasa's observation is that before investing in one of these heads (which also requires additional engine horsepower to operate), consider varying corn head height operation during harvest.
“For example, if you are in a no- or strip-till program, consider operating your head from 18 to 24 inches high at harvest,” he says. “That way, more stalks are standing up and not touching soil microbes. This means the stalks hang around longer and catch snow. It also keeps the sun and wind off the soil surface to conserve soil moisture.”
Another big advantage to leaving taller stalks is that crop residue will not blow around fields and pile up on fence rows.
“I've seen drifts of residue 1 foot deep or more along fence rows due to the lack of standing stalks,” Jasa says.
Steve Butzen of DuPont Pioneer says leaving stalks 12 to 18 inches tall keeps residue out of row middles, which can occur over the winter months.
“Those standing stalks may not look pretty to some people, but they keep residue anchored and keep it from being blown into the middle of rows where you'll plant the next crop,” says the agronomy information manager. “Some farmers like to harvest high, so they're not running as much material through the combine.”
Phil Needham, global crop consultant with Needham Ag Technologies, says the header's height has an impact on the amount of material a combine has to process and thus cuts fuel use.
“If your corn head is taking more power to operate, then you've got less power available to process your crop,” he says.
Far easier on tires
Of course, residue piles the following spring are not a problem if you are in a fall-tillage program. Even in this case, leaving stalks high during harvest has the advantage of saving tires.
“That's why I don't like cutting corn lower than 6 inches,” Jasa says. “Some farmers cut it closer to the ground or even run a shredder over to cut the stalks off. If you do that, it's standing up as a sharp stump and is more likely to cut tires.”
Leaving stalks 1 foot tall or higher minimizes tire damage. “When a tire hits a stalk that tall, the stalk will lean over without puncturing the tire,” Jasa says.