Row By Row / August 2023

Check Your Corn Head Now for Optimum Harvest Performance This Fall

Producers in Drought Areas Should Pay Special Attention to Deck Plates.

Corn growers whose crops have suffered from drought this season should pay added attention to their corn head while doing pre-harvest checks and adjustments to minimize additional loss at harvest.

“Most producers understand the value of checking their corn head before a normal harvest season, but it’s even more important during years like this,” says Dustin Bollig, farmer and vice president of sales and marketing at Dragotec USA.

“Along with the short harvest caused by Mother Nature, smaller ears, narrow stalks, drier corn and extra trash caused by drought, create additional yield challenges — particularly for full-line brands at harvest,” he notes.

Check deck plate gaps

“Corn head owners with hydraulic deck plates should especially check gaps,” he says. “More than measuring to make sure gaps are consistent from one row unit to the other, they may need to narrow deck plate gaps across the corn head to match thinner stalks.”

Bollig notes that more than 60% of the corn lost during harvest occurs at the corn head. “In fact, university research has shown that as little as a 1/8-inch gap between stalks and deck plates can result in a one to four bushel per acre loss alone.” *

Failure to manage deck plate gaps could lead to unnecessary yield loss.

“Because Drago deck plates automatically self-adjust to a wide range of stalk sizes, the need for re-calibration is rare,” Bollig says. “Yet, in extreme conditions where drought has been prolonged and spindly stalks are widespread, owners may want to close deck plate settings from the factory default,” he adds. “Those operators can visit our visit our Drago owner-exclusive Drago Club for assistance on how to perform that procedure.”

Check these components, too

Though deck plate settings may be the most important in limiting yield loss, other corn head components play a role in helping achieve an efficient, trouble-free harvest.

Gathering chains: Check both gathering chains and the sprockets they run on for wear. “We know chains can stretch which not only accelerates their wear, but also wears their sprockets. Drago gathering chains can be easily tightened for optimum operation.

Knife rollers: Although roller knives may seem an obvious maintenance pre-check, Bollig says farmers often overlook knife roller wear and spacing, which can cost yield.

“Most knife roller designs have a short window to fully process stalks,” he adds. “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.”

Bollig says a consequence of a higher knife roller speed is an increase in yield loss via butt shelling and ear bounce. In drought conditions, this loss can be exacerbated from small ear loss through the deck plates and increased shattering in drier corn conditions.

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.

Gear boxes: 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. Drago owners can visit the Drago Club website to find operator’s manuals and maintenance how-to videos.

Other routine corn head care procedures include:

  • Maintaining normal- or severe-service lubrication schedules to help avoid breakdowns.
  • Blowing the row units off under the bonnets to keep all parts moving freely. 
  • Cleaning gathering chain tensioners regularly. Proper tension adds life to chains and sprockets.

“Good management and good maintenance go hand in hand with harvest efficiency and a trouble-free season,” says Bollig.


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*Graeme Quick, Iowa State University