Reducing soybean harvest losses when plants are short and podded low

Learn how to adjust and operate your combines when harvesting short soybean plants that are podded low to the ground.

Harvest loss due to cutterbar operating too high
Harvest loss due to cutterbar operating too high. Photo by Mike Staton, MSU Extension.

Due to the delayed planting and dry weather that occurred in July and August of 2019, the plants in many soybean fields are short and podded close to the ground. The main problems that occur when harvesting short beans are failing to gather the short plants into the combine after they have been cut and failing to cut the plants low enough to harvest the lowest pods on the plants. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following recommendations to help reduce these important sources of gathering loss.

  • Position the cutterbar as close to the ground as possible. Check and adjust the skid shoes on the bottom of the header to lower the cutterbar. You may need to increase the angle of the header to lower the front of the cutterbar (3 degrees is a good starting point). This is a balancing act, as too much of an angle may increase the potential to pick up soil and stones leading to more broken guards and knife sections and cause cut plants and loose beans to build up on the cutterbar. Too flat of an angle may leave unharvested pods on the stubble due to a higher cutting height (see photo).
  • Purchase a Crary Wind System or an AWS Airbar, as the air stream produced by this equipment effectively moves short plants and loose beans and pods to the auger or belt. Follow the manufacturers recommendations for positioning the outlets on the drop tubes to maximize performance.
  • Remove the stone guard on the cutterbar if it is preventing short plants, loose beans and pods from moving to the auger or belt and you do not have an air-assisted reel.
  • Harvest on a slight angle (15 to 20 degrees) in fields planted in 15-inch or 30-inch rows. This will usually help the short plants feed into the combine more uniformly.
  • The position of the reel will be critical to reducing gathering losses when harvesting short plants. With auger heads, positioning the reel as close to the auger as possible provides the most uniform feeding under most conditions. However, you may need to experiment with fore and aft reel position with very short plants. Lowering the reel is recommended when plants are short to prevent the plants and beans from building up on the cutterbar. The tips of the reel fingers should be about 0.625 inches above the top of the guards or the header floor.
  • Set the speed of the reel about 10% faster than the ground speed and adjust as necessary to improve feeding.
  • Set the speed of the belts on draper heads fast enough to assure plant material isn’t building up on the cutterbar.
  • Experiment with your groundspeed to find the sweet spot where the cut plants are feeding well and the stubble is cut cleanly and uniformly.
  • Reduce shatter losses by harvesting in the morning or evening when relative humidity is higher.

Implement the recommendations provided in this article, in your operator’s manual and by your local equipment dealer to solve any soybean harvest challenges you encounter this fall.

 

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology). The SMaRT project was developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. SMaRT is a partnership between MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.


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