Our modern-day crops are taller, tougher, planted thicker and yield more bushels than crops from just 10 years ago—which means additional work is required on combines before harvest and during the season.
Cutterbar knives and guards on small grain platforms must be razor-sharp to slice through stems and stalks. It used to be enough to replace worn sickle sections every few days during harvest. Now it’s necessary to replace dulled sections daily to maintain optimum ground speed and minimize shatter on the cutterbar.
Replace sickle sections if a leather glove doesn’t snag on the serrations when lightly brushed along its edge. If the edges of a sickle guard aren’t straight and sharp, replace it. Dulled sections and guards gnaw, rather than slice through, tough stems, increasing grain losses at the cutterbar.
Corn heads must be adjusted to accommodate genetically modified cornstalks. Today’s hybrids are planted 5,000 to 10,000 plants per acre thicker than when many corn heads now in use left the factory 10 years ago. Deck plates may need to be set wider to deal with thicker Bt stalks and the higher volume of stalks-per-second passing through them.
Snapping rolls and gathering chains that lasted two or three years in the past may be worn after one year due to increased crop flow. Check deck plates halfway through harvest and adjust clearances as necessary.
Wear to threshing components, including rasp bars, threshing elements and threshing concaves, has also been accelerated by crops genetically engineered to stay green longer.
Stay-green genetics means combines must deal with tougher, wetter stems and stalks. This demands more power, increasing fuel consumption and stress on drive belts and chains. Belts with minor weather-checking or glazing that in years past would have survived a season now snap or shred midway through harvest.
Added pressure. Lower clean grain augers, grain tank fountain augers and grain tank unloading augers suffer accelerated wear thanks to higher-yielding crops. Seed geneticists acknowledge that many varieties have been modified to produce harder seed coats. “Harder” often means “more abrasive,” increasing wear on the machinery the grain contacts, especially augers and housings.
Some operators try to salvage worn augers by welding or riveting new plastic or metal flighting over worn segments. That Band-Aid doesn’t address the problem of thinning and weakening of the wall of the center tube. Replacement is often the only true solution to auger wear.
Trough and housing wear parallels the wear of the augers themselves. When replacing or reinforcing augers, probe troughs and housings for thin or weak spots.
Residue management has become a major issue with genetically modified crops. Higher volumes of tougher, more fibrous stems and stalks increase wear on straw chopper knives and stress straw chopper and straw spreader drive components.
Operators who try to stretch a set of chopper knives one more season often regret the decision the following spring, when unshredded residues slow spring tillage. Dull chopper knives also steal horsepower, with a proportionate loss of threshing capacity and/or ground speed.
Higher yields and gene manipulation are a good thing, but they mandate increased preseason preparation and daily maintenance to keep equipment running during harvest.
Cool Tool of the Month
When welding on modern farm equipment, there is a risk that electrical current will travel through the frame and cause destructive arcing within electronic components and on-board computers. Disconnect the ground cable at the battery to reduce the risk of electrical arcs. Matson Antizap circuit protectors sell for around $75 and quickly clamp to battery terminals to provide arc prevention without the need to remove battery ground cables.