Row By Row / July 2018

Keep costs down with durable corn harvest equipment

One of the dominant storylines in row crop agriculture in recent years has been the pressure bearish grain market prices have exerted on profitability.

Sixty-nine percent of the more than 450 farmers surveyed by Dragotec USA say they’re more concerned with corn yield loss today than they were just a few years ago.

Lower crop revenue has farmers looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing crop output. Some of these ways include trimming machinery costs, and operating machinery that is durable and long-lasting.

Why Durability’s Importance Is Growing

Because of the market price pressure they’re facing, more farmers are operating equipment longer than they would have a few years ago. That trend puts a premium on the durability of any tractor, combine or implement brand, says Fenton, Iowa, farmer and Dragotec President Dennis Bollig.

“When you are buying a piece of equipment and looking at its return on investment, the longer that equipment can run before it needs to be rebuilt or replaced, the better. It’s a big factor for ROI,” he says. “With lower prices and tight margins, farmers with sharp pencils are looking more closely at equipment durability and how machines are built as a way to manage costs without losing yield.”

Production practices and corn genetics that improve standability and stalk strength have also upped the importance of machinery durability, especially with corn heads. Corn that stands better is tougher on the corn head and combine during harvest, making it critical to have a corn head that can handle that additional stress.

And when you consider that many farmers are planting higher populations to squeeze more profit potential out of every acre, the combination of stronger stalks and higher populations makes the harvest process even more “violent,” Bollig says.

“If you look at what’s happening at the corn head during harvest, it’s a brutal action. And now, with more plants per acre and tougher stalks, it’s creating more wear on the corn head,” he adds. “With a Drago corn head, we want to protect every individual component so that machine is as durable as possible.”

The More Protection, The Better

One way to protect those components and improve the durability of a corn head is by limiting torque. The new Drago GT corn head features Independent Component Protection, a set of radial-pin slip clutches for each friction point in the machine.

Compared to other heads that have a smaller number of clutches to control more components, the larger number of clutches dedicated to individual parts on a GT corn head share in the overall torque load. That means less stress on each clutch, and it ultimately extends the life of each clutch and the parts they control.

“Most corn heads have a single slip clutch for each row unit that is external. That means the torque load for that main slip clutch is extremely high. With Independent Component Protection, each component has a clutch with the torque to protect that component,” Bollig says. “This extends the life of each of those components by applying the right amount of protection for that components job.”

Gears Add Durability

Chains are usually used to transfer power to corn head row units. But, without regular maintenance, they can loosen and stretch, requiring replacement several times through the life of a corn head. Employing drives with spiral bevel gears, like in the Drago GT corn head’s Endura Drive system, adds durability by eliminating common maintenance issues with both chains and conventional gears.

“Chains need attention and constant adjustment as they wear and stretch,” Bollig says. “Because of the precision milling process and the spiral beveled design, Drago GT gearboxes don’t experience the excessive wear you see with conventional gears.”

Watch How You Harvest

Though components like spiral bevel gears and higher numbers of slip clutches can add to a corn head’s durability, the best way to extend the life of any implement is by paying close attention to maintenance schedules, the replacement parts you use and how you operate in the field.

“Sometimes, you can use lower-cost parts, but they may give you more headaches at harvest through breakdowns that can end up costing you more money,” Bollig says. “A lot of corn heads are designed the same way today as they were 30 years ago. But now, we are driving higher-horsepower machines faster and harvesting more plants with tougher stalks per acre, and it’s creating more wear issues than in the past. It’s important to take these factors into account when looking at the corn head.”