Key maintenance checkpoints extend corn head efficiency.

When it comes to maximizing the life of a corn head, maintenance matters.

“With today’s tight farm economy, trading in for a new corn head every other year to avoid a breakdown is hardly an option,” says Fenton, Iowa, farmer and Dragotec USA president Denny Bollig. “And while the combine once was the primary focus for service, more attention is turning to the corn head.”

“More than 60% of the corn lost during harvest occurs at the corn head,” he says. “Proper maintenance can not only extend the life of a corn head, but help to reduce harvest loss, too.”

Bollig points out that conditions during harvest have a great impact on maintenance needs. “Downed corn, for example, forces placement of the head closer to the ground, bringing in more dirt, debris and stones,” he says. “This means your in-season maintenance just went up – including everything from lubrication to cleaning – to keep your corn head running at peak performance.”

Those conditions, Bollig says, suggest the importance of good header height control, such as Headsight® technology that offers automatic tilt response during harvest.

Monitor deck plate calibration

Key components, including deck plates, knife rollers and gearboxes should be routinely inspected through the harvest season. “Deck plate alignment is critical to getting more yield acre after acre, he says. “Over time, debris, linkage wear and field obstacles can cause hydraulic deck plate gaps to deviate – among row units – from the original factory-set calibration.”

He notes that university research* has shown that as little as one-eighth of an inch of misalignment, creating a wider gap, can result in up to a four bushel per acre loss.

“It’s essential to check for gap consistency between deck plates at least once a year – and during the season if possible – to ensure there are no major discrepancies among corn head row units,” Bollig says. “Failure to do so could mean bottom line losses.”

He notes that Drago corn heads with automatic self-adjusting deck plates don’t require calibration and provide more self-cleaning action from constant movement.

Inspect knife rollers

Harvesting high-yielding corn requires consistent feeding action at a corn head’s knife rollers. Although this may seem like an obvious maintenance checkpoint, farmers often overlook knife roller wear and spacing, which can cost yield.

“Worn knife rollers can create stalk slippage and require higher speeds to process the plant material,” says Bollig. “Producers may be unaware that a consequence of a higher knife roller speed is an increase in yield loss via butt shelling and ear loss.”

He adds that run knife roller designs without a window, or too short a window, to fully process stalks creates inefficiency. Inefficient stalk processing means stalks can bunch up. “Farmers naturally compensate for this by increasing roller speed, but in doing so, are creating additional wear in a concentrated area at the front of knife rollers.”

Overlooking knife roller maintenance – or putting a halt to harvest to change knife rollers during the season – can add significant time and cost on top of yield reductions from improper residue management. It’s important to be proactive and not try and press your luck going into harvest.

Evaluate drive system components.

Other maintenance trouble spots include corn head drive system components. Inevitably, as chains, sprockets and gears wear, drive system components lose efficiency. Producers must use their discretion when weighing the cost of repairs versus replacement.

“When making a decision about part replacements, ask yourself, ‘What is it going to cost me?’ and do not always think about the cost of the part itself,” Bollig advises. “Consider the job it will do and if it will last the season.”

In addition to examining the drive system for signs of wear, producers should also check both the level and condition of grease or gear oil in each row unit gearbox.

“Gearboxes are at the heart of any corn head and their wear can be a great indicator of its longevity,” says Bollig. “Producers might consider replacing their corn head when major drive components, including row unit gearboxes, begin to fail or when there is excessive backlash movement of rotating shafts and sprockets.”

Other maintenance considerations

Referencing the operator’s manual is always a good way for producers to bring themselves back up to speed on the proper maintenance of their corn head. Other routine corn head care procedures include: - Maintaining lubrication schedules to help avoid breakdowns. - Blowing the row units off under the bonnets – focus on deck plates to prevent sticking and binding. - Cleaning gathering chain tensioners regularly. Proper tension adds life to chains and sprockets.

“Good management and good maintenance go hand in hand,” says Bollig. “And while factors such as build quality, weather and corn-on-corn practices can also affect the lifespan of a corn head, it won’t last unless properly maintained.”

He notes that more than ever, producers are looking at how corn heads are built for durability when making purchase decisions. “Design features like spiral bevel gearboxes, chainless drives and longer knife rollers play a role in how a corn head performs and how long it lasts.”

“The way we educate producers about the design of their corn head helps them make better maintenance decisions and become a more informed end user,” says Bollig. “We are realistic and know corn harvest is a violent activity and parts are bound to wear out. And when that happens, our “No Back-Order or it’s Free Guarantee” commitment is a statement that we are serious about making parts available to service and support our owners.”

*Graeme Quick, Iowa State University To learn more about corn head maintenance tips, contact your local Drago dealer