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Attachments can help harvest lodged corn

Slideshow: Attachments for the combine’s corn head can help pick up downed stalks.

It’s a challenge trying to harvest severely lodged corn. Farmers in a wide area of Iowa are experiencing that frustrating job this fall. Wind damage, drought and stalk rot have caused lodged stalks that are difficult to pick up and gather with standard harvesting equipment. It’s a slow, aggravating process trying to harvest lodged and broken stalks that are tangled, bent over and, in many cases, lying flat on the ground. It’s difficult to get the ears into the combine’s corn head. Many ears end up lost in the field.

Powered attachments for corn heads are available to assist the gathering process and reduce the number of missed stalks and ears. These attachments assist the flow of cornstalks up and over the snouts and into the gathering chains and cross augers. While required travel speed may still be significantly reduced from normal, these attachments can greatly reduce head plugging and field gathering losses. 

Iowa State University Extension ag engineering specialist Shawn Shouse provides the following information about combine head attachments farmers can use to assist in gathering lodged corn. He explains the various designs and lists contact information to help farmers find out more about corn head attachments and their availability:

Finger reel attachments. Finger reels consist of a horizontal rotating shaft with long (3- to 4-foot) slender steel bars (fingers) that rotate like a small grain reel to help move lodged corn- stalks into the gathering chains and cross augers. The fingers are often in pairs for each row, offset slightly to the right and left of the row to allow passage of standing corn between the fingers. The fingertips are often curved toward the row to guide lodged stalks into the gathering chains and curved away from the direction of rotation to release the stalks as they near the cross augers.  

The mounting brackets allow the shaft location, both up-down, and forward-aft, to be adjusted so the fingertips clear the gathering chains below and clear the cross augers and ear savers behind. Some models include flexible fingertip extensions to reduce the risk of mechanical damage if the fingertips contact the gathering mechanism. The mounting brackets are attached to the framework of the head.

The drive mechanism for finger reels is often a variable speed hydraulic orbital motor and chain gear reduction, allowing the operator to set the reel speed and resulting fingertip gathering speed slightly faster than the forward travel of the combine. 

Paddle reel attachments. Paddle reels consist of a horizontal rotating shaft with a set of (typically three) paddles per row, about 12 to 18 inches long and 4 to 8 inches wide. The paddle shape varies by model. These rotating paddles assist the corn crop material movement up the gathering chains and into the cross augers. An additional set of paddles is often mounted at the center of the head to assist in clearing crop congestion at the feeder house entrance. Compared to finger reel attachments, the paddles set slightly lower and farther aft in the head.

Paddle reels may be designed less for getting lodged stalks into the gathering chains, and more for moving tangled stalks up the stripper bars and into the cross augers. To assist in their function in variable conditions, the shaft and paddle location both up-down and forward-aft is hydraulically adjustable on the go. The drive mechanism is typically a variable-speed hydraulic orbital motor and chain gear reduction.

Snout cone attachments. Snout cones consist of tapered cones with shallow (1- to 2-inch) helical flighting. The cones are mounted in line with and just above the snouts. The cones rotate to use screw-auger action to lift lodged and tangled stalks up and pull them back over the snouts. The support and bearing at the front end of the cone is covered by a protective tapered hood to prevent catching of stalks.

When snout cones are mounted over every snout, they are typically driven by a horizontal shaft that is powered by a variable-speed hydraulic orbital motor. The horizontal shaft powers the rear ends of all the cone axles through right-angle drives. When snout cones are mounted only over the outside snouts to gather stalks lodged outside the head swath, they are typically powered with a variable-speed hydraulic orbital motor connected directly to the individual cone axle.

Combinations of attachments. Snout cones (which are end snouts, or all snouts) are an attachment sometimes offered in combination with finger or paddle reels. In these cases, the drive mechanism for the reel may also power the snout cones. 

Equipment suppliers that make and market these types of corn-gathering attachments have years of experience testing and refining their products. While making these types of attachments yourself may be possible, reliability and safety are critical around gathering equipment. The safety-tested and designed commercially available attachments are highly recommended. 

Contacts for more information 

Suppliers of the various crop gathering attachments as of 2020 include the following. This list does not suggest endorsement, Shouse says, nor does omitting any similar product indicate lack of endorsement. This information is provided to help people understand the types of equipment available.

For finger reel information, you can contact: 

  • Kelderman, Oskaloosa, Iowa, 641-673-0468 
  • Heritage, Bloomington, Ill., 309-828-0400 
  • Meteer, Athens, Ill., 217-636-8109 

For finger reels, paddle reels, snout cones: 

  • Patriot, Minden, Neb., 308-832-0220 

For paddle reels: 

For snout cones and paddle reels:


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