Managing Corn Residue
Higher corn plant populations, tougher stalks and an increase in stover yields has resulted in an overabundance of plant material, adding residue management to producers’ harvest time activities.
According to Dustin Bollig, Northwest Iowa farmer and Marketing Director for Drago Corn Heads, the residue management decisions producers make during fall set the stage for planting season.
“The better broken-down residue is, the darker your soil will be in the spring which helps increase soil temperature and allows you to get in the field sooner,” says Bollig. “Reducing excess residue also decreases your risk of yield robbing disease and pest infestations.”
“This is especially true in corn on corn rotations as well as corn to soybean rotations because of high lignin hybrids developed to improve plant standability,” he explains. “Smaller residue sizing helps bacteria break down tough stalks.”
Additionally, proper residue management can improve seed placement, emergence and uniformity across the field.
Handling residue at harvest During harvest, the corn head functions as the front line for controlling residue through the integration of header options that simultaneously shred and size stalks while capturing yield.
“In the past, fields that needed to be chopped required an operator, a tractor, a flail shedder and another pass across the field,” says Bollig. “Using a chopping head, you are saving fuel, depreciation, maintenance, labor and timeliness costs of one machine with another already in use.”
However, Bollig clarifies a chopping corn head isn’t for everyone. He says it’s an investment that requires careful consideration of climate and tillage practices.
“Many no-tillers shy away from this option. If residue isn’t mixed in with tillage it can blow away, or the residue can act like a mat and prevent soil from drying out in the spring,” he explains.
“Secondly, if you are in a warmer climate you tend not to need as much chopping because higher heat units accelerate the breakdown of stalks compared to cooler climates where temperatures take longer to rise.”
Choosing the right chopping head
According to Bollig, the key factor to consider when comparing chopping heads is the design of the unit.
“The most important job of any corn head is to harvest everything in the field no matter the condition, and the reality is we run into a lot of different conditions such as poor ear retention, leaning stalks, or worse – downed corn,” he says.
“At Drago, our motto is yield first. That’s why we use a controlled up-front chopping design that controls the plant with the knife rolls before the stalk comes in contact with the chopping blade,” says Bollig. “Other designs that shake the plant or cut too early from chopping in front of the roll can leave large amounts of yield on the ground, especially in poor field conditions.”
For example, in a 30-inch row operation, one average sized ear found along 174 feet of the row is the equivalent of 1 to 1.5 bushels of corn. If this is occurring in every row behind a 12-row corn head that could equal a 12-bushel loss.
“This potential for yield loss is the biggest reason our chopping heads do not start the chopping process until the stalk is well into the stalk roller,” Bollig says.
Currently, Drago offers two chopping options. The Twin Chop+ is a patented industry first featuring two counter rotating blades that split and size residue lengthwise for better breakdown. Using this configuration, the blades provide maximum chop quality, while allowing the knife rolls to run slow, reducing the amount of shelling that can occur compared to other heads with excessive stalk roller speed.
For producers who desire more flexibility depending on the field or crop rotation, Drago offers the Single Chop option which performs quality chopping using the least amount of horsepower and can be disengaged in areas that don’t require residue management.
Although some producers are hesitant of the horsepower needed to run the Twin Chop+, Bollig says the assumption it requires double the horsepower is a common misconception.
“Instead of using two separate gearboxes that would require two gear splines, the Twin Chop+ has one gearbox driving power off a single spline while using spur gears to bring the power forward on both sides,” he says. “This efficient drive design dramatically reduces the horsepower needed to run counter rotating blades.”
“We pride ourselves in offering more flexibility in residue sizing than the competition,” he adds. “In addition to offering two chopping options we also offer a non-chopping option that can be modified into a Single Chop or Twin Chop+ without ever trading corn heads.”
To learn more about the Twin Chop+ or Single Chop options, contact your local Drago dealer.