University research has shown that 60% of yield loss at harvest occurs at the corn head. So, it should be easy to Google “corn head yield loss” to learn the latest technologies equipment brands offer to help save yield, right?.
Spoiler alert: The only equipment brand that describes what they are doing to reduce loss at the corn head is Drago.
“Really, if you wanted to put it down on paper, what features can John Deere – or any other brand – say when it comes to saving yield at the corn head?” asks Iowa farmer and Dragotec President, Denny Bollig. “They basically all have the same features.”
“Reducing yield loss at the corn head is truly our story. No other brand of corn head offers as many yield-saving features as what you’ll find on a Drago.”
Bollig says most farmers accept that there will be a certain amount of loss at the corn head and feel there’s little they can do about it. “Aside from seeing an ear bounce out of a corner or finding an ear on the ground, yield loss at the corn head isn’t very noticeable.
“Shelling loss at the corn head is like a very slow leak and it’s hard to monitor,” says Bollig. “There’s no information coming back to you visually or electronically that can tell you what’s going on at the ground level.
“What our corn heads are trying to do is take what is a very violent process and soften it to minimize the yield loss other people take for granted. We’re saying, ‘No, you don’t have to accept that yield loss.’”
“We know there’s a better way and that’s because people don’t think about the harvesting process as deeply as Olimac, which manufactures Drago corn heads.”
“Why do we have a head that can do all of the things we say? It’s because we’ve had one family focusing on one product since 1954. They have passed their knowledge down through multiple generations – a total focus on just the corn head.”
Bollig says the technology behind Drago corn heads evolves from Olimac’s “yield-first philosophy.” “Every component of a Drago corn head is engineered for added yield and durability.”
He shares some examples where that “yield-first philosophy” comes into play.
Downed corn – Downed corn is one of the greatest fears of producers at harvest, Bollig notes. “Whether you come across an area of severe downed corn or intermittent plants, you’ve got to get that point underneath the stalk or you lose that ear. If you want to ride your point on the ground, we offer an extended bubble tip – and we’ve got adjustable down pressure on the point, too.”
Bollig points out that Drago features the lowest profile corn head, allowing ears to move up the row unit with ease to reduce ear loss out the front.
“The location of gathering chains and their ability to grab and gather leaning stalks is crucial in picking up downed corn,” Bollig says. “Drago’s gathering chains are aggressively located out-front where they run closer to the ground, allowing their overlapping fingers to grab, secure and lift stalks.”
He also notes that Drago choppers are positioned behind knife rollers to avoid striking leaning plants, which can prematurely drop ears before plants can be processed.”
Deck plates – Kernel loss at the deck plates can be a significant source of yield loss at harvest, Bollig says. He points to Iowa State University research that shows a deck plate gap as little as a one-eighth of an inch wider than required can mean up to a 4 bu./acre loss in the field.
“Today, we know there is a significant amount of stalk size variability. In fact, initial harvest research data is suggesting higher-yielding corn may actually have more variability than lower-yielding corn,” he says. “Because of that plant variability it’s virtually impossible to accurately set deck plates for any one stalk width from a combine cab at harvest. Operators are unable to see when deck plates are set too wide, and when the deck plate gap is too tight, excessive plant material is run through the combine, causing yield loss there.
“We know the best position for deck plates to be set is right against the stalk – not too tight and not too far away. Drago corn heads avoid the entire variability problem with independent, self-adjusting deck plates that automatically minimize gaps, both in-row as well as across the rows.”
Knife roller speed – “Early in the harvest season, higher-moisture ears can bounce off deck plates when they are pulled down too fast by knife rollers running at excessive speeds,” Bollig says. “Along with being longer than those of other brands, Drago knife rollers allow stalks to move and be processed their entire length,” he notes. “Their design and added length allow our knife rollers to run at a slower speed, reducing the velocity of ear impact – and ear bounce – off deck plates.
“You don’t want any more than what it takes to pop the year off the stalk.”
Bollig says Drago knife rollers typically pull-down stalks at 10 to 12 miles per hour. “Our competitors typically start at 14 miles per hour and go up to 16, 17 and 18 – all of that added energy is transferred to the ear.”
“With today’s fast drydown hybrids, potential yield loss changes from ear bounce early in the season, to butt-shelling later in the season,” Bollig says. “Dry ears have built-in shock absorbers – they’re called kernels,” Bollig jokes. “And upon impact, those dry kernels shell and can be lost.
He points out that the Drago GT corn head, which features two QuadSuspension™ shocks under each deck plate, is specifically designed to minimize ear impact and reduce butt-shelling. “The integrated shocks absorb much of the impact of ears striking deck plates, reducing both ear bounce as well as kernel loss.”
“When you compare other corn head brands, you’ll find everyone has poly dividers, everybody has poly bonnets and offers hydraulic deck plates,” he says. “But when you start looking at what features really tie back to reducing yield loss, you’ll find Drago has more yield-saving features than the rest of the competition, put together. Period.
“Our best customers are people who acknowledge that yield loss is happening – who know that it can vary tremendously from one end of the field to the other, from one variety to another, and in different times in the fall.
“So, if you’re really serious about getting all the corn you grow and know that 60%of the yield loss at harvest is at the corn head, you aren’t being serious about harvest yield loss unless you’ve got a Drago.”