Harvesting Trees With Combines
Feb 14, 2010
Doing annual maintenance this winter on combines at our dealership has underlined problems with increased component wear. Wear to flighting on clean grain augers and unloading augers, on the floors of feederhouses, and to straw chopper knives and other high-flow areas of combines has dramatically increased in the past decade. High yields--200 bu./ac. corn and 50 bu./ac. soybeans--are certainly a factor. Combines and grain handling equipment simply see more bushels due to not only higher yields, but because individual farmers have increased the size of their operations.
A less quantifiable factor that contributes to increased wear on harvest equipment is improved crop genetics. The stalks of Bt corn are measurably larger than non-Bt stalks--almost like small trees. Are they physically "tougher" and therefore more of a wear-factor on machinery? We know they don't degrade over the winter like non-Bt stalks. That hints they may be physically, mechanically tougher and a source of increased wear.
Soybean stems seem to be stronger, too. It's not uncommon to find bean stalks that are as thick as your little finger. Wear to soybean platform sickles and guards has increased proportionally. Customers who demand maximum ground speed during soybean harvest have told me they check and often replace knife sections daily on the portions of the cutterbar that run "on the row". A local seed grower who runs one combine strictly on corn and another combine strictly on soybeans noted that he sees more wear to straw chopper knives on his bean combine than on the corn combine, hinting genetically improved bean straw is as wearing as high-volumes of corn stover.
Equipment manufacturers have noted the increased wear. The flighting on a 2010 grain tank fountain auger is twice as thick as the flighting on augers we put in combines back in 1999. Manufacturers are scrambling to find hard-surfacing for straw chopper knives that will last for more than one harvest. The downside is that thicker augers and "harder" chopper knives are more expensive.
So the cycle continues: you figure out ways to raise better crops and increase your profits, and the better crops require machines and machinery parts that cost more.