For many producers, optimizing the performance of their combine is considered key to corn harvest efficiency, but today we know corn head performance is equally as critical.
“Twenty years ago it was not unusual to see the same corn head run through two or three different combines,” says Iowa farmer and Dragotec President, Denny Bollig. “But now with enhanced genetics, tougher stalks, added acres, and more plant material running through the corn head that trend has changed.”
“Upgrading your combine doesn’t change the fact that 60 percent of yield loss occurs at the corn head,” says Bollig. “The best way to limit loss and maximize your return on investment is with better corn head technology.”
“In many cases, producers will purchase a new corn head because they changed planters – they may have changed row spacing or added more rows, for example. Or they may want a chopping head to save trips across the field,” Bollig says.
“But the most common reasons for replacing a corn head include improving reliability, increasing capacity and minimizing cost.
“As a corn head ages, producers must evaluate its wear, increasing maintenance, the cost of replacement parts, and potential downtime at harvest,” Bollig says. “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.”
Yet another reason producers upgrade their corn head is simply to gain harvest efficiency.
“The problem with that is most corn head brands are designed the same way they were 30 years ago,” says Bollig. “The mechanics are basically the same, only now we are driving higher-horsepower machines faster and harvesting more plants per acre with tougher stalks, and it's creating more wear issues than in the past.”
He points out that because of ongoing market price pressures, more farmers are operating equipment longer than they would have a few years ago. “That trend puts a premium on the durability of every piece of equipment.
"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."
Bollig notes that Drago is the only corn head brand that has made significant changes to improve both harvest efficiency and durability. “The Series II and the GT model corn heads are serious upgrades compared to those of other brands.”
The condition of components that may determine the need to replace the corn head itself start with the corn head drive system.
“Inevitably, as chains, sprockets and gears wear, drive system components lose efficiency,” Bollig says. “In comparison, the spiral-cut gears on Drago GT’s Endura drive system eliminate common maintenance issues with both chains and conventional gears.”
He says 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.”
Another critical component for evaluating the life of a corn head are its gearboxes.
“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 its row unit gearboxes begin to fail or when there is excessive backlash movement of rotating shafts and sprockets.”
"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," Bollig adds. "A Drago corn head works to protect every individual component so that machine is as durable as possible."
One way to protect those components and improve the durability is by limiting torque. The Drago GT corn head features Independent Component Protection, a set of radial-pin slip clutches for each friction point in the machine.
"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. In the Drago GT, 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."
"When you are buying a corn head you must consider 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 in calculating ROI," he says.
Whether purchasing new or used, corn head upgrades can be an affordable alternative to improving combine performance. You don’t always have to replace the largest, most expensive machine in your harvest equipment line-up.