Editor's Note: The combine head gallery that accompanies this offers you a good look at a wide range of options - we do not claim it is comprehensive, but we offer you a look at many options on the market.
Farms and combines are getting bigger. Yields are increasing and so is residue. Harvest windows are narrowing, and farmers are trying to harvest more acres in a day.
From folding heads to better choppers, header technology is keeping pace with these trends.
Heads are getting larger to match combine capacity. And now, with just the touch of a button in the combine, heads can fold up and go down the road, said Tosh Brinkerhoff, CEO of Geringhoff in St. Cloud, Minn.
As large-scale farmers buy up smaller farms and operators move between fields that aren’t always contiguous, he said, folding heads are becoming essential for saving time, labor and fuel.
Folding heads also provide another advantage: as combines get bigger and more people move to rural areas, it’s becoming a greater challenge and safety risk for farmers to navigate rural roads, Brinkerhoff said.
He noted that as heads get larger, manufacturers are finding ways to reduce weight, too.
“We’re hearing from operators that there is a need to run more acres in an hour, and they’re going to be able to do that with larger class size combines, larger heads,” said Caleb Schleder, Agco tactical marketing manager for Gleaner, Massey Ferguson and Challenger combines.
“From the standpoint of the entire industry,” Schleder said, “everybody’s looking at how to minimize losses, how to make our operators more efficient, how to move faster through the field, and how to essentially get more return on investment with new corn head technology.”
At Geringhoff, where the entire focus is on building German-engineered header equipment for the North American market, there’s rapt attention to the industry and crop production trends.
“Over the last 10 years, we have seen this trend toward narrow rows,” said Erik Quanbeck, Geringhoff’s national sales representative, “and now we know and understand fully that it is the way of the future to increase yields by increasing population.”
Tough stalks create challenges
A key demand for manufacturers is to help farmers manage those increasing populations and residue, including the hardy Bt corn stalk.
“We paid attention to that because we’ve had to strengthen drivelines,” Quanbeck said. “We’ve had to make some of the chopping parts a little tougher. We went through a time where we were adding more hardening to our carbide knives on the Rota Disc, so it really comes down to us being versatile and paying attention to what’s happening in the fields and reacting quickly to meet those needs.”
Stalk rind and health vary by variety, and “some of these double and triple-stacked varieties are extremely robust,” noted Roger Maes, senior marketing representative for John Deere Harvester Works.
The size of those stalks and residue are reasons that Deere’s Stalkmaster Chopping Corn Head solution has become popular, Maes said.
“They’re thicker and they’re tougher,” agreed Dennis Bollig of Dragotec USA, noting that’s just one of the challenges for headers. “These corn heads have 400-, 500-horsepower combines pushing across the field at faster and faster speeds, and these corn heads are having to handle more plants per acre than ever before with stalks that are tougher than ever before, so it puts a tremendous strain on these corn heads compared to what we had 30, 40 years ago."
Dragotec’s Drago GT head has a new level of durability and efficiency in the all-gear drive and spiral-beveled gears in the row unit. And the new Twin Chop+ option allows knife rollers to run slow for maximum yield retention while continuously chopping.
With two chopping systems running out of the same gearbox, knives counter rotate for a scissors effect. The front knife system sizes the stalks into pieces, giving the second chopper more of a chance to split them lengthwise. That opens the stalks for better exposure to soil microbes that break down residue, Bollig said.
“Ninety percent of the diseases in corn come from old corn residue,” he noted.
Bt stalks do not deteriorate quickly, and that’s a serious problem because it inhibits bushels per acre in corn planted after corn, said Jim Straeter, an inventor and New Holland implement dealer in Rochester, Ind.
“Getting the stalks off there will help yields significantly,” Straeter said. Conventional wisdom is that the corn stalk is costing $30 an acre in tillage, he added.
To improve operator efficiencies and lower overall production costs for harvesting stover, he invented the Cornrower, an attachment that bolts beneath the header, out of sight. It’s available through New Holland.
“What it allows customers to do,” said Daniel Valen, cash crop segment leader for New Holland, “is to windrow their cornstalks directly behind the combine, thereby saving two passes that customers would have to do.”
Straeter said with the Cornrower, stalks never touch the ground until they’re laid in a windrow. Because dirt and rocks aren’t picked up, there’s far less wear and tear on knives and the equipment that processes the stover.
“We’re getting 1,500 acres out of a set of knives,” he said.
With yields rising, so are negative impacts of Bt stalks. But there’s also good news: stover has become a more commercial product because it deteriorates slowly and is easily baled biomass, Straeter said.
That presents a “huge opportunity” for farmers, Straeter said, pointing to Pellet Technology USA in York, Neb., which is starting to pelletize corn stalks and distiller’s grains for cattle feed. For more than a year, area farmers have been selling stover to Pellet Technology as the $30 million plant gears up for production.
Valen calls it a new way for farmers to turn “residue to revenue.”
At Calmer Corn Heads, CEO and inventor Marion Calmer has his own residue solution. His patented BT Chopper stalk rolls and residue management upgrade kits cut, chop and shear cornstalks into “confetti-like residue for unrivaled decomposition.”
Calmer spokesman Nick Bustos said it’s an affordable alternative to buying a new chopping corn head and uses 25% less horsepower. “This upgrade kit makes corn heads perform better than a new corn head at a fraction of the cost,” Bustos said.
Row independence gains ground
Calmer lays claim to the world’s first single-chain, narrow row independent corn heads.
Also delivering row independence are the Italian-made Capello Gladiator 700 Series corn heads, available in 20-, 27- and 32-foot widths. The design of the lower-profile snouts and snapping rolls helps minimize yield loss, according to Capello.
Argentina-based Mainero introduced row-independent corn heads in the U.S. in 2015.
The MDD-100 Row Independent Corn Head is designed to harvest any row spacing in any direction, “without the loss seen with traditional corn heads,” said Bruce Nordick of Grain Bags Canada, Mainero’s North American distributor. “The stainless-steel snouts are tapered by design, which reduces friction when the corn stalks are gathered.”
Deere and Agco are among bigger manufacturers that haven’t entered this market.
“It’s a very, very small market right now,” Schleder said. “From a standpoint of where the market will go, I really haven’t seen a whole lot of customers asking for row independent corn heads at this point, but it is coming.”
At the 2012 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky., Geringhoff introduced the Independence, a head that would harvest corn in any direction. Farmers clamored to see it. But as Geringhoff continued to test and research, a decision was made to not offer it commercially.
“We decided that to preserve the integrity of Geringhoff, we would not offer a product until we knew that it would meet the standards for really what the farmer wanted, which was yield retention, working in downed corn and also processing residue,” Quanbeck said. “We’ve been paying very close attention to the others that are out there going after this. We’ve also talked to a lot of farmers. We feel that while it’s an exciting product, we’re not sure how strong the market really is for row independent heads.”
Geringhoff continued the “Independence theme” with the 2016 introduction of the Patriot and Freedom corn heads, which have characteristics that resemble row independence. A new gearbox design allows row units to be placed closer together for better performance in narrow-row spacing and downed corn.
“We haven’t given up on the row independent model, but our focus right now is the Freedom for the 15-inch grower,” Quanbeck said. “The Patriot really is for the 20- and 30-inch growers and twin row, and there will be more to come in the future on row independence from Geringhoff.”
Curb crop loss at header
“When it comes to corn heads and Draper heads, if you have too much loss upfront, you don’t even have the opportunity to have it threshed and put it into the bin,” said Schleder.
“Really looking at mitigating that loss is where a lot of the technology is heading. You’re starting to see that with different styles of gathering chains entering the market. Operators want to reduce that loss as it can be costly to an operation.
“On the 3300 Command Series corn head, we’ve designed the snouts to mitigate butt shelling and ear bounce. We have a dome on the back of our gatherer that essentially guides and manages that crop so it won’t bounce on that gatherer out of the head. It’s going to be directed either into the auger or into the gathering chain,” Schleder said.
To capture lower pods and get the best yield from soybeans, Maes said, “draper cutting platforms are the way the industry’s going as opposed to auger platforms.”
Deere offers HydraFlex Drapers. The new 645FD, available for S680 and S690 combines, brings an added five feet of productivity for up to 10% more acres harvested in a day. A wider feed section allows 15% more crop into the combine.
Geringhoff’s new TruFlex Razor flex draper head for soybeans, wheat and small grains offers the only fully flexible frame and flexible cutter bar, Brinkerhoff said. It gets close to the ground, ensuring the crop gets into the head.
“We have a three-section frame with a fully flexible cutter bar and three section reels so each reel section matches up with each frame section,” explained Quanbeck. “When you see it in the field, it just flexes. We went out and we cut stubble left by some of the competitors. It’s just like the name implies -- it shaves the field.”
For grain sorghum, in 2015 Geringhoff introduced the MiloStar, the first head of its kind for milo. It allows harvest at lower moisture levels with faster speed, better retention and less shatter loss in the field.
With wheat farmers’ bin-busting production, trends in that market remain stable, in Maes’ opinion. Deere’s front end equipment of choice for wheat is the 600D Series rigid draper.
In future Midwest crop production, Maes anticipates more site-specific management. Currently with a 15-row, 30-inch space corn head, you’re harvesting 40 feet of width. The technology isn’t offered yet to make that more finite, he said.
“The next step function in terms of variable rate or site specific management would be when the industry is able to provide a solution that could track yield, for example, by row rather than by the entire width of the head,” Maes said. That may be down to every four feet, rather than a 40-foot width, he said.
“There is a lot of innovative technology that is hitting the market,” said Schleder, of Agco, “and our operators that are excited about making their business more profitable and efficient.”
Note: The following combine product had no photo, so could not be included in the gallery:
Cressoni Corn Heads | Air Flow System
Cressoni Corn Heads hold two main patents -- the Air Flow System and Roto Cross-Cut System. Farm Industry News is featuring the Air Flow System, which uses a blower to channel kernels. The air flow is directed from the front of the head towards the combine, said Romano Cressoni of Cressoni USA in Plainview, Minn. The patented Air Flow System provides a wind force properly channeled directly to the row units to blow the kernels from the deck plates area toward the auger, which retains more kernels and reduces yield loss, Cressoni said. “Every kernel counts toward your profitability,” he said. “Do not leave your profit in the field.” Learn more at cressoni.it