Friday, November 14, 2014
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2014 Fall Farm Outlook:
Behind the wheel
Today’s harvest involves more brain than brawn

By Nila Smith

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[November 14, 2014]  LINCOLN - In the early days of automation, the farmer was enthralled with the pull-behind corn picker that pulled the corn off the stalk, shucked the ear, and threw it into the wagon tied behind. When the “self-propelled” combine came along, many thought that the world of agriculture had reached its pinnacle. Little did they know that technology was going to take hold of the farming industry, shake it up, stomp it down and pack it full of gadgets and gizmos that would turn harvest into an adventure of brain over brawn.

Earlier this year, Central Illinois Ag of Atlanta hosted a combine clinic to show off some of the newest gadgetry and drive home a big lesson to local farmers. Today farming is about knowledge, and technology is putting knowledge at the fingertips of the producer, literally.

Throughout the morning, various Case-IH experts talked about new combines coming out, new monitoring systems and the duties that can be performed from the cab; among those was the evolution of the Yield-sense technology.

From the cab of the combine, the producer can monitor yields on an acre-to-acre basis or even hopper-to-hopper, can measure the moisture of the corn going into the hopper, can map the fields by zones, and can track the harvest by hybrid, all with a few pokes of buttons. And it all occurs in real-time as it is computed through the Cloud.

But it isn’t a matter of push a button and everything is all set. There are steps involved in the set up that have to be followed precisely and in a particular order.

In the new generation of combines and technology, one new development is an automatic set on the header height. The height is set through a calibration process in the field. The header height is important in the monitoring of yields. During the CIA presentation, the discussion included how to do this calibration properly.

In order for the new generation of monitors to do their job, the equipment has to be calibrated starting with the header. Today’s headers have sensors built in that will tell the monitor in the cab what head is on the combine.

Once the head is mounted, the hydraulics and electrical hooked up, the operator needs to calibrate the header height for two positions, cutting, and not cutting. When the combine is moving down the field with the head at the cutting height, the sensors and monitor are working to measure distance traveled and product going into the hopper. Using these two measurements the monitor can then calculate the yield in real time in the field.

When the corn head raises at the end of the row, the sensors in the head communicate to the monitor that it is time to stop measuring distance traveled. This is a key component of measuring the yield, and it is important that the header be raised to the proper height at the end of a pass.

Another important calibration is the sieve calibration. Again this is done once. First set the sieve, for example, to a quarter of an inch top and bottom. Then in the cab follow the step-by-step on screen instructions to set the monitor to show that accurate sieve setting. A similar calibration is also done for the concaves.

With today’s technology, the farmer can also analyze his crop on the move. The newest systems are now capable of monitoring grain moisture in the field as the corn is being shelled. The first step to achieving this is to collect a physical sample of the corn going into the hopper, and run it to the local elevator for a soil moisture test.

There is no need to stop and wait for the results to come back. The test can be done at the elevator; the results brought back to the combine and put into the onboard computer system. The system will then take that moisture test and apply it to the sample load. In essence, that load then becomes the control. The computer will then compare the control to loads shelled later, and calculate a moisture content on everything that has been harvested thus far. The computer will continue to use that original sample as the control until it is given a new sample results to work with, and it will all be done in real time.

With this year being a late wet harvest, this is a valuable tool to the producer. Moisture testing in real time can help the producer make the decision to go on or go home. As we enter November with harvest still ongoing the option to go home is going away, but the tool can help in other areas as well.

Grain producers will probably do more storage this year due to the low price per bushel on the cash market right now. Corn can be directed to drying bins and holding bins according to moisture. Coupling all wet corn together in one place, and all the dryer corn in another can increase efficiency and possibly save on drying costs.

It can also relieve some of that sense of urgency for the producer. The wettest corn can be dried first before it gets hot in the bin and starts the mold and decay process. Drier corn can be stirred and aerated to help maintain the integrity of the crop until it gets to the dryer.

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The new monitoring systems can also show the producer in real time what varieties performed well this year on several levels. While yield is expected to be high this year, the later it gets into the season, the greater the possibility for downed corn.

Down corn and fallen ears obviously affect yield. While the dream come true for a farmer would be a corn that stands well regardless of the weather conditions, not all hybrids are going to give them that. Looking at the corn physically in the field, comparing the yield in bushels and the dryness of the grain, can offer some insight as to what worked well and what didn’t in this particular year.

While farmers don’t yet have a crystal ball that tells them what next year will bring, what they can have is a history of what hybrids performed consistently well in certain fields under a variety of conditions.

Not everything is determined by the weather or the hybrid. If a field has trouble spots, the monitoring system will record that. If the same area has a problem next year, a yield history is in the making. Over time, the monitoring system which transfers data to the home computer will tell the farmer what he may be able to expect from a certain field.

If one uses this information coupled with field mapping and soil test mapping, the producer can create a scientific profile of that field. With such information, the producer can make smarter choices on tillage practices, fertilizers, and seed that should be grown there.

Another great innovation in the evolution of the combine is the adjustable spreader. Everyone knows that crop waste is discharged out the back of the combine, but how that waste falls on the field is now something that can be controlled through automated settings inside the combine.

For many, the waste product will become residue in the field. Residue has value as it can deter soil erosion, or it can be tilled under to help break up compacted soils and provide some soil nutrient value. With a wet year, compaction will be an issue and crop residue will have value in the field looking ahead to 2015.

But, there are some producers, who also have livestock, and as the markets fluctuate on grains as well as beef and pork, efficient feeding programs could include baled corn stocks. Today’s spreaders can be adjusted to accommodate that, with a narrowing of the back fan; corn stalks can be windrowed right out of the combine and ready to bale. Though wheat is not a large crop in Logan County, the combines will do the same for those who are looking to bale straw.

Another extremely important innovation is the 'Geo-fence’ feature in the new combines. Back in the day, leaving the combine in the field five miles from the house was not a big deal, everyone did it. Today’s machines are huge investments and as has been described here, chalked full of equipment that some might consider to be fun little toys to swipe and trade. The Geo-fence is an on-board security system that can alert the farm house when a piece of equipment is being moved or messed with in some fashion.

And finally, in spite of all the new gadgets, the first thing any machine operator should do before firing up that combine is go old-school. Dig out the operator’s manual and review the to-do list, check out and refresh yourself on the calibration processes and follow the instructions on maintenance and safety.

Today’s machines are bigger and better than ever, but they are still just as dangerous when not operated properly as the two row pull-behind corn picker, so be smart, be safe, and may the bushels be there for you.

Read all the articles in our new
2014 Fall Farm Outlook

2014 Year in Review 4
Flip-flop Weather 10
The up-side-down harvest 16
Will corn producers make money this year? 18
At the Elevator 24
Harvest Quotes 29
What's bred in the ground 34
The growth of farm transportation 38
Behind the wheel 41
New combine head attachments 47
What's happening on the GMO/foreign trade issue 51

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