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5 Ways to Save Yield While Cutting Costs

The need for speed that marked the era of $7-plus corn was the key to expansion for the future.

The need to save every bushel or cut every buck is essential during this era of break-your-back breakeven prices when making a few dollars an acre is considered a good year. Accentuate these meager profits by slashing costs in the following five areas you may not realize are possible.

1. DON’T DROP DRYER TEMPERATURE 

While it may seem a sure thing to save on fuel, don’t be tempted to turn down the temperature on your dryer. Running a dryer at the maximum temperature it is designed for not only speeds harvest but also cuts drying costs, explains Ken Hellevang. “Many times, that doesn’t seem to make sense,” the North Dakota State University engineer acknowledges. “Some farmers think, ‘If I turn the burner down, I’m burning fewer gallons per hour.’ But they’re also going to be drying fewer bushels per hour. The research is pretty clear that as you increase the dryer temperature, you increase the energy efficiency and, of course, boost drying speed.”

Now, often toward the end of the season, farmers assume that since they’re only removing three to four moisture points, they can lower plenum temperature in the dryer to save some fuel. “Exactly the opposite happens,” says Gary Woodruff of GSI.

The amount of energy required to remove a pound of water is about 20% less using a drying air temperature of 200°F. than at 150°F. Typical recommended drying temperatures are 210°F. to 230°F. 

A second misconception about drying that Hellevang would like to dismiss: waiting to allow corn to dry down in the field saves money and time. “The later in the fall you wait to harvest, the less moisture is being removed from corn in the field. That’s because ambient (outdoor) temperatures fall as the season progresses,” Hellevang explains. “Since air temps are colder, that significantly increases drying cost, as you are having to heat incoming air that is around 30°F. compared with 50°F. earlier in the season. Once corn gets down to 20% to 21% moisture, get it out of the field.”

2. put the FOCUS ON THE CORN HEAD 

The combination of higher harvest speeds, wider heads, and corn genetics that produce tougher stalks and ears that dry down faster has set the corn head up as the No. 1 cause of field losses. Farmers are sacrificing 3 to 5 bushels per acre from faulty heads, Iowa State University research finds.

“That research confirms heads are the No. 1 cause of crop losses. I’m convinced that 60% of harvest losses occur at the corn head,” contends Dennis Bollig, Fenton, Iowa, farmer and owner of Dragotec America. “Shelling loss alone can cause up to a 4-bushel-per-acre loss.”

The corn head is second only to the planter regarding the impact equipment has on yield, Bollig says. So what’s exacerbating the problem? “We are asking heads to process more acres than ever before. Such head components as stalk rollers not only are pulling heads down at such a rate that they’re hitting deck plates at speeds of 15 to 18 mph (which can accentuate ear butt shelling, particularly in dry corn) but also are chewing up the stalk (to speed residue deterioration after harvest).”

In down corn conditions, a faulty corn head could cost upwards of 30 bushels per acre, he warns.

You can minimize head losses with a thorough preseason inspection and maintenance program. Bollig urges you to target deck plates, chains, and stalk rollers for inspection and replace any and all worn parts. “Don’t think about the cost (of replacement parts), because you’ll easily recuperate that expense during harvest,” he adds.

During the season, get out of the combine and look behind the head to determine if it is giving up ears or shelling out grain.

Stop midseason and double-check the head for wear. “Twenty years ago, we were putting 50 to 100 hours on our corn heads compared with the 150 to 250 hours or more we run today. So you can expect deck plates, gathering chains, stalk rollers, sprockets, and other parts to wear out before the season ends,” he says.

Bollig shares his detailed corn head maintenance advice on a Successful Farming Show TV segment at Agriculture.com/video/shop-tips-corn-head-maintenance.

3. dryerate corn in storage 

A surefire way to save on drying costs is by turning to dryeration. The cost savings of this alternative grain-drying practice are huge. North Dakota State University’s Hellevang figures you cut drying fuel cost by 25% or more through dryeration, a practice in which corn comes out of a high-temperature dryer at about 130°F. and at a couple points of moisture above its recommended storage rate.

That grain is then transferred warm to a bin equipped with a full aeration floor. There, the grain sits in storage while it’s allowed to steep without airflow for four to 12 hours. Steeping time is crucial; it allows the moisture in the center of the kernel to migrate to its exterior. When steeping is complete, aeration fans are turned on, cooling the grain. This removes the last 2 to 2.5 points of moisture without the need for fuel. Cooled grain is moved to another bin for final storage.

Find a description of dryeration by going to ndsu.edu and searching for the publication AE-808.

4. shut off irrigation earlier 

Irrigators commonly keep applying water at the end of the growing season to avoid yield loss. Often, though, it turns out that extra 1 to 3 inches of water is not needed and costs producers an extra 2 to 5 gallons of diesel fuel per acre. Assuming an average $3 per gallon for diesel (based on U.S. Energy Information Administration costs for the Midwest), unnecessary irrigation costs you between $6 and $15 per acre, or 3¢ to 7½¢ per bushel (based on a 200-bushel-per-acre corn yield).

Your goal should be to provide enough water in a crop’s root zone to carry the crop to maturity and to produce top yields. Then, leave the field fairly dry after maturity, advises Steve Melvin with the University of Nebraska.

To optimally determine soil water needs for a given crop to make it to maturity, Melvin says you need to do the following:

  • Predict crop maturity date.
  • Predict water use by the crop to maturity.
  • Determine how much water is present in the soil.
  • Predict rainfall before the crop matures.

Find detailed information, including a chart with the water-storage capacity of different soil types, at extension.unl.edu/publications and search for Predicting the Last Irrigation of the Season.

5. harvest soybeans wetter 

Claim more bushels of soybeans by hitting the field when beans approach 15% moisture, urges Paul Jasa with the University of Nebraska. Doing so can greatly reduce pod shelling losses that become common when beans approach 10% moisture.

“Many times, the dock for delivering beans over 13% moisture content may be less than the shatter losses from harvesting overly dry crop,” he points out. 

Soybeans are fully mature when 95% of the pods are at their mature tan color, Jasa says.

“What appears to be wet or green from the road may be dry enough to harvest. Try harvesting when some of the leaves are still on the plant, as the beans may be drier than you think,” he says.

Plant stems may still be green at that point, which challenges the combine. 

Jasa recommends the following combine adjustments to process tough green stems.

  • Slow ground speeds, particularly in the morning.
  • Increase your combine’s grip on green stems in order to pull them through the harvester. Replace worn feeder house chains and worn parts (particularly rasp bars) in the thresher.
  • Insert filler plates or wires in the front portion of the concave to keep green pods in the cylinder or rotor chamber longer. This results in more complete threshing. 
  • Consider closing down the top sieve slightly to send green pods out the back if they are unthreshable.
  • Increase fan speed since green stems are heavier and need more airflow to keep them suspended above the sieves for proper cleaning and to blow green leaves out of the combine.
  • Close down the lower sieve slightly to keep green pods out of the grain tank, sending them back for rethreshing.
  • Install disrupter bars on rotary combines to improve green stem flow through the rotor and to reduce roping. On some combines, you can retard material flow by adjusting the vanes on the rotor cage or by installing reverse rasp bars to keep the material in the rotor longer.

Finally, if you are storing these first-harvested beans that are wetter, run aeration fans to drive moisture out.

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