Brandon Kitchel of Richmond, Ind., appreciates the strong-standing, healthy cornstalks that result from improved genetics. But, growing up in a family that has no-tilled for two decades, he’s had his fill of stalk-damaged tires.
"It’s not just combine tires that get damaged," Kitchel says. "It’s also truck tires, hydraulic hoses and wiring harnesses. And it’s not just during harvest season—we seem to get as much tire damage in the spring as in the fall."
So Kitchel designed a roller that leaves cornstalks flat on the ground where they won’t slash tires and will decompose more rapidly. His roller won first place and $500 in the harvesting equipment category of Farm Journal’s "I Built the Best" contest.
Kitchel’s roller consists of seamless steel tubing with cleating made from rebar wrapped around it in a chevron pattern. The cleating grips the ground and crushes cornstalks.
"Without cleats, the roller would slip over stalks in dry conditions," Kitchel says. "Before I settled on rebar for the cleats, I tried using angle iron, but it was much harder to mount on the roller."
Kitchel first built a one-piece roller that stretched all the way across his corn head. After 2,000 acres, it proved the concept worked. But his latest version consists of 44"-long sections that mount under each row unit.
Using multiple sections lets the roller flex when it crosses waterways or ditches, Kitchel explains. The short sections also are easier to install.
Kitchel made mounting brackets to attach the roller sections to his corn head. "Designing the brackets was the toughest part," he says. The sections are spring-loaded to ensure ground contact.
Kitchel likes his roller better than other stalk management techniques. "Stalks shredded by chopping corn heads sometimes blow away or wash into low spots, where they form a mat," he says. "Even worse, chopping heads leave 4" to 6" of standing stalk, and your tire comes straight down on it.
"Chopping heads and knife rolls take more fuel, too," Kitchel continues. "Since the roller is ground-driven, it requires no extra horsepower from the combine engine."
Kitchel is so pleased with his stalk roller that he has applied for a patent and intends to market the device to the public. You can see more pictures of the roller and submit questions about the attachment at his website, www.kitchelcornroller.com.