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Tips to tackle soybean harvest challenges

Jeff Caldwell 08/21/2012 @ 1:21pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Smaller-than-normal, drought-slammed corn kernels aren't the only things that could complicate harvest this fall. It could also be a tough go running the combine through this year's drought-shortened soybean fields, one industry expert says.

Soybean plants will likely be shorter than normal and the beans themselves will probably be smaller than normal, 2 conditions that will make keeping a sharp eye on your header a high priority this fall.

"The way you feed the combine is going to be the biggest factor impacting grain quality, and it always is. There are some simple tricks to keep in mind to prevent excessive damage to soybeans, especially when pods are brittle and prone to shattering," says product performance manager for Gleaner combines, John Keller. "With proper combine settings and attention to detail, growers can reduce harvest losses even when dealing with drought-stressed crops,” Keller says. “Be sure to read your owner’s manual or consult with your local dealer for help with proper combine settings."

Those tricks, according to a company report, include:

  • Cylinder speed should be set slower than normal, and it’s critical under drought conditions that the concave is level to the cylinder to prevent brittle beans from splitting.
  • Cylinder speeds typically set at 700 RPM should be lowered to 400 RPM.
  • Keep an eye on the concave condition, especially in older combines (7–10 years).
  • Slightly reduce airflow in the cleaning shoe, but be careful not to drastically decrease air – too much or too little air will lead to beans bouncing out.
  • Drought conditions mean plant materials are lighter and more brittle, which will lead to more stems and pods on the shoe; and instead of crop material coming out the end of the rotor, they will come over the shoe — requiring airflow to be monitored closely.
  • Chaffer and sieve screen gaps should be narrowed to maintain air speed, while allowing for enough airflow to remove the pods and other plant material from BB-size beans.
  • With less clearance room, settings such as threshing units, cylinder-concave and rotor-grates should also be adjusted accordingly.
  • When plants are lower to the ground, smaller clearances may also be needed between the reel, cutter bar, auger and the feed conveyor chain, to make sure stalks are feeding through the platform.
  • Keeping the cutter bar low is essential in drought years, when plant populations are low and more pods are close to the ground.
  • Ensure the sickle is sharp -- dull sickles will tend to push stems over rather than cut them cleanly.
  • The front drum of the feeder should be low enough so that the chain just clears the floor of the feeder house.

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