Maintenance tips for extending the life of your corn head

March 7, 2018 10:25 AM

Today’s tight farm economy is causing producers to pay more attention to extending the life of their equipment,” says Fenton, Iowa, farmer and Dragotec USA president Denny Bollig. “And corn heads are deservedly getting more than their fair share of attention.”

“The combine has been the primary service focus at harvest, but more producers realize the importance of keeping their corn head operating smoothly, too,” he says. “More than 60% of the corn lost during harvest occurs at the corn head,* so paying more attention to the details that can extend the life of a corn head often have a dual benefit of reducing harvest loss.”

Bollig points out that stalk and weather conditions during harvest have a great impact on maintenance needs – even some soils are more abrasive than others.

Downed corn, for example, forces placement of the head closer to the ground, bringing in more dirt and debris such as antlers, sticks and even stones. “This means your in-season maintenance just went up – including everything from lubrication to cleaning – to keep your corn head running at peak performance,” he says.


Deck plate calibration

Key components, including deck plates, knife rollers and gearboxes need to be routinely inspected to through the harvest season.

According to Bollig, corn head deck plate calibration is critical to getting more yield acre after acre. “Over time, debris, linkage wear and field obstacles can cause hydraulic deck plate gaps to deviate – among row units – from the original factory-set calibration.”

He notes that university research* has shown that as little as one-eighth of an inch of misalignment, creating a wider gap, can result in up to a four bushel per acre loss.

It’s essential to check for consistency between deck plates at least once a year – and during the season, if possible – to ensure there are no major gap discrepancies between row units of the corn head. Failure to do so could mean bottom line losses.

Inspect knife rollers

Harvesting high-yielding corn requires aggressive feeding action at the site of a corn head’s knife rollers. Although this may seem like an obvious maintenance checkpoint, farmers often overlook the knife roller wear and spacing, which can cost yield.

“Worn knife rollers can create stalk slippage and require higher speeds to process the plant material,” says Bollig. “Producers may be unaware that a consequence of a higher knife roller speed is an increase in yield loss via butt shelling.”

Inefficient stalk processing also means stalks can bunch up, creating faster wear in a concentrated area of the knife rollers, and allowing additional residue to enterthe combine. Overlooking knife roller maintenance -- or putting a halt to harvest to change knife rollers during the season – can add significant time and cost on top of yield reductions from improper residue management.

Evaluate drive system components 

Other maintenance trouble spots include corn head drive system components. Inevitably, as chains, sprockets and gears wear, drive system components lose efficiency. Producers must use their discretion when weighing the cost of repairs versus replacement.

“When making a decision about part replacements, ask, ‘What is it going to cost me?’ and do not always think just about the cost of the part itself,” Bollig advises. “Consider the job it will do and if it will last the season.”

In addition to examining the drive system for signs of wear, producers should also check both the level and condition of grease or gear oil in each row unit gearbox.

“Gearboxes are at the heart of any corn head and their wear can be a great indicator of its longevity,” says Bollig. “Producers might consider replacing their corn head when major drive components, including row unit gearboxes, begin to fail or when there is excessive back-movement of rotating shafts and sprockets.”

Other maintenance considerations

Referencing the operator’s manual is always a good way for producers to bring themselves back up to speed on the proper maintenance of their corn head. Other routine corn head care procedures include:

  • Maintaining lubrication schedules to help avoid breakdowns.
  • Blowing the row units off under the bonnets – focus on deck plates to prevent sticking and binding. 
  • Cleaning gathering chain tensioners regularly. Proper tension adds life to chains and sprockets.

“Good management and good maintenance go hand in hand,” says Bollig. “And while factors such as build quality, weather and corn-on-corn practices can also affect the lifespan of a corn head, it won’t last unless properly maintained.”

For more information, go to

*Graeme Quick, Iowa State University



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