Ignorance is bliss!

5 November 2023 by
Seed Terminator, Kelly Ingram

There’s nothing better than sitting in an air-conditioned cab, pushing the handle as far forward as you can so you can brag to your mates about harvesting 50t/hour, while shovelling grain out the back.

Measuring these losses involves getting hot and dusty, and who cares anyway, most header drivers get paid the same regardless of how much they leave behind and they’ll be sitting on a beach in Thailand sipping a pina colada when the boss finally works it out!

Ignorance is bliss!

I recently attended a harvester set up day that opened my eyes. Here’s some things I learnt.

In WA, $300M of grain is left on the ground every year after harvest. That’s roughly $80K per farmer every year.

About half is front loss and half is machine loss (out the back).

Most of the machine loss is rotor loss.

If you have rotor loss, you are also throwing weed seeds out of the rotor and not into the Seed Terminator.

We are aiming for less than 1% losses, but we are achieving 2% for wheat, 3% for Canola, and 4% for barley. You don’t even want to know the losses of oats and pulses.

There is one big lesson that will halve your losses in a heartbeat.

How to halve your harvest losses:

Buy a drop tray.

Growers who owned a drop tray like the BushelPlus system to accurately measure losses had half of the grain losses of growers who are not measuring with a tray. Apparently, you can’t just buy it and leave it in the corner of the shed, you actually have to use it! And if you do, you’ll learn a lot about your machine and you’ll find better capacity with lower losses.

We say 1% loss is acceptable, but less than 0.5% losses for cereals is really achievable. The trick is to use your drop tray to get to 0.5% losses (or better) then calibrate your yield loss monitor at this level, and stick to it.

How do we know all of this. Last year GRDC put up some money and the Grower Group Alliance in WA did 200 tests over 75 sites across a whole heap of machines.

How to halve your losses again

Make some modifications to your threshing components e.g. different concaves, concave shift, extra rasp bars, spiked rasp bars etc.

At the workshop we learnt some great harvester set up tips from a couple of blokes who really knew their stuff.

Case IH Harvesters – Brett Asphar is the man. This guy has literally crawled all over Case IH machines as a driver and mechanic for 40 years. Brett has developed a set up to increase capacity and reduce losses. It involves moving the concave about 10mm to the right, which moves the pinch point from the bottom to the left-hand side of the concave. This creates several threshing points that are roughly equally distant from the rotor instead of one. The concave opening on the right-hand side is now wider. Brett also recommends filling the separation area of the rotor with spiked rasp bars. These rip holes in the straw mat, letting the grain out.

John Deere Harvesters – Kassie Van der Westhousen cut his finger during the workshop and green blood oozed out! This guy has worked in John Deere dealerships for years, the past four years of which involved purely working with John Deere owners on harvester optimisation. He knows green machines.

Kassie has a few tips. One involves adding and extra 10 or so threshing bars to the first section of concave, as well as adding more threshing elements to the rotor. For S series combines, the class 8 and 9 machines can take 9 extra rasp bars (this is called dense packing the rotor), the bolts are already sitting there waiting for you to add them. Many John Deere machines come with rasp bars designed for corn. They have a lip on them. This lip can either be ground off or the rasp bar replaced with a small grain rasp bar.

He also removes all blanking plates from the separation area and even cuts out some of the separation grates to make the openings bigger. We have a small area to get all of the grain out of the rotor. Why would be blank it off?

Most John Deere owners say that they get grain losses from the left. The reason for this is totally counter intuitive. Kassie told a story of how he discovered that the reason is that there actually isn’t enough grain delivered to the left side of the sieve. The exact opposite of what you might think. His set up involves opening up the left side (not blanking it off) to deliver more grain to the left to even up the sieve load.

Yellow and lime green

They didn’t recommend too many modifications to the twin rotor machines, New Holland and CLAAS. There are spiked rasp bars for New Holland machines (there are left and right bars, make sure you put them on the correct rotor!), and perhaps some different concaves to play with, but generally speaking they don’t need too much modification.

In general, the experts tell us that these machines are already pretty well suited to small grain harvest, but there’s a lot that can be done with the settings of the machine to find the sweet spot of low losses and high harvest capacity.

Low grain losses = high weed seed termination

One of the big messages from the field day was that if you are throwing grain out of your rotor, you are probably throwing out weed seeds as well. This may be due to poor machine set up, or tough (e.g. damp) harvest conditions. Whatever the reason, the message is keep using the drop trays to measure your grain losses and you will increase your profit, and maximise the number of weed seeds entering your Seed Terminator.

It's your money. If you want to throw it on the ground it’s up to you. But if you want to maximise your income and smash your weed seeds at the same time, there’s a lot you can do with you harvester to get it humming. The machinery industry hasn’t done a great job of this in the past, which is why we have huge harvest losses. We can do better.

The 18th century poet Thomas Gray was the first to say “ignorance is bliss”. President Thomas Jefferson embellished that quotation with one of his own. He said, “if ignorance is bliss, why aren't more people happy?”

You’ll be happy if you harvest 99% of your grain and smash 99% of your weed seeds!

Best of luck out there this harvest. 

The Terminator Agronomist
Proudly brought to you by Seed Terminator 

Please note this advice is general in nature and not based on your specific circumstances.

Subscribe to The Terminator Agronomist

A monthly email looking past the IBC with a focus on Harvest Weed Seed Control, agronomy & agribusiness

Share this post