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9 Tips for Dealing With Down Corn

If you are dealing with downed corn in a number of fields, you could be in for a long harvest. The tips below won’t necessarily speed things along, but they will ensure that you harvest as many bushels as possible.

1. Evaluate the situation.

Before you start making combine adjustments or adding attachments, see how great your loss is. “The number one mistake farmers make when combining lodged corn is assuming that a strategy such as harvesting against the grain or using a lower travel speed will work without taking a few minutes to measure behind the combine and check for loose ears still on the ground,” says Mark Hanna, Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer.

The best way to do this is to evaluate 1/100-acre plot. (Hint: 1/100 of an acre equals 435.6 square feet.) So if you are using an eight-row, 30-inch corn head, you would check an area 21 feet, 9 inches long and eight rows behind your combine. Or for a 12-row, 30-inch corn head, check an area 14 feet, 6 inches long and 12 rows behind the combine. Each ¾-pound ear found in this 1/100-acre plot equals a loss of 1 bushel per acre.

If the bushel-per-acre loss is large – exceeding 5 bushels per acre – you should also check an unharvested area to see if there are ears on the ground that aren’t attached to stalks. These ears would be difficult to pick up regardless of adjustments or attachments, so these options may not be worth the extra effort.

2. Start soon.

Harvest lodged corn sooner rather than later. Stalk rot will only get worse as lodged corn sits in fields, so it’s best to harvest it early.

3. Slow down.

Reducing speed may reduce the number of missed ears.

4. Go against the grain.

If your cornstalks are leaning toward the west, harvest heading east.

5. Stay low.

Keep points of snouts as low to the ground as possible.

6. Remove ear savers.

Contrary to their name, ear savers can actually prevent downed corn from making it into the combine head.

7. Level out.

Adjust the angle of your feeder house to make the corn head as level as possible without raising snout points. Consult your operator’s manual for specific directions for your head. Some combine manufacturers also sell wedge kits for this.

8. Get aggressive.

Your gathering chains may need to be more aggressive in lodged corn. If this is the case, running them together generally improves the ability to grab stalks. If large stalks are blocked by opposing cleats on the chain, they may need to be staggered.

9. Invest in an attachment.

For extreme circumstances, you may need to purchase a reel or rotating cones that can help lift and guide stalks into the head. Crop dividers may also be a worthy investment.

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