It’s no secret combines perform best when they’re operating at their maximum capacity. However, the widespread drought is changing not only corn grain yield, but the volume of plant material that will be passing through combines as they harvest corn this fall. In addition, drought-stressed kernels will be smaller and more difficult to keep clean and intact, particularly in many of today's larger combines.

With attention to detail and a few simple combine adjustments, growers can maintain kernel integrity, produce a clean grain sample and minimize grain harvest loss. John Keller, product performance manager for Gleaner combines, located in Hesston, Kan., explains what farmers are up against and offers some recommendations for modifying combine settings to offset the unusual conditions growers are facing in 2012.

“Drought stress means corn stalks and ears will both be smaller than normal and small ears are especially difficult to feed,” says Keller. “The way you feed the combine is the most important consideration when harvesting, and there are some simple tricks to keep in mind to prevent excessive damage, especially when corn kernels are weak and prone to breaking.”

He offers these three key points:

1. Allow for adequate material flow. In drought years, it’s critical to keep enough material coming into the combine.

·      Lower your header to take in more crop material than you normally would. The stalks and leaves will provide cushioning and prevent excessive kernel damage. Particularly in today’s Bt corn, leaves will hang on to the stalks to help cushion the grain and decrease butt shelling before crop enters feeder house.

·      Other ways to increase material volume to meet the needs of today’s high-capacity combines are using a larger corn head to feed in more rows of crop or increasing the machine’s ground speed.

·      If you experience grain damage or combine plugging this is likely caused by an uneven flow of crop material caused by an improper adjustment. Refer to the combine operator’s manual or contact your local dealer for advice on combine adjustments for drought conditions.

2. Be careful when threshing to prevent grain from going out the back of the machine. Fan speed should be slowed and sieve openings should be made smaller to account for smaller kernels.

3. Remember to keep the stripper plates close and to narrow the snapping roll openings on your corn head to accommodate smaller ears and stalks.

Keller also reminds growers to be prepared for dry field conditions.

“Hot, dry, dirty field conditions are hard on machines, so take the extra time to keep filters clean and screens clean and free of debris,” he says. “Fires can also be more prevalent in these conditions, so before beginning harvest take the extra time to have fire extinguishers serviced and place one in every harvest vehicle. We want everyone to have a successful and safe harvest.”