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Modify headers to optimise grain harvest from short crops

Options are available to assist grain growers who are facing the additional challenge of harvesting short crops this year.

DPIRD development officer Glen Riethmuller with an example of black plastic attached to a finger tine reel, which helps feed cut material from low crops into the front of the header to reduce grain loss. Image © Government of Western Australia

With the start of harvest a matter of weeks away, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has encouraged growers to prepare and, if required, modify their headers to capture as much grain as possible.

An estimated 20 to 30 per cent of crops in the northern and eastern parts of the northern and central grainbelt are expected to be sparse or low to the ground and difficult to harvest, due to delayed and below average rainfall during the growing season.

Department surveys around Merredin suggest that as much as 0.07 tonnes per hectare of wheat could be lost at harvest and 0.3t/ha of lupins as a result of short crops.

Development officer Glen Riethmuller said significant grain loss could occur at the front of the header, if heads or pods were mechanically dislodged from plants before entering the header.

Mr Riethmuller said the key to maximising harvested grain was to ensure a quick, clean cut to pick up and clear low cut material.

“It is important the knives are sharp and that the knife section hold-down clips are adjusted to provide no more than a two millimetre clearance so the knife cuts at the bottom of the knife guard,” he said.

“Extension fingers that extend forward from the knife may also be useful to help catch cut material on conventional open front headers.”

Mr Riethmuller said attaching rigid black plastic to the finger tine reel was a cost effective and easy way to help feed cut material into the front of the header.

“Black Corflute® is available commercially or online and should be cut to size to extend down evenly to the knife,” he said.

“It is important the ribs run down the reel fingers for added strength and to place it on every second section going around the reel, to prevent the harvest driver’s eyes from following the motion, resulting in headaches or fatigue.”

Other modifications include attaching an air reel to blow short material clear of the knife back into the table auger or belt, or attaching a Vibra-mat® on tin fronts.

Mr Riethmuller said threshing patchy crops could also be difficult, particularly for canola.

“There is a risk that the wind from the cleaning sieves can throw grain out or result in dirty grain when plant material is fed through unevenly and the flow is low,” he said.

“An option to mitigate this risk is to set the harvest to a low wind flow and then clean the grain with a high flow seed cleaner.”

An article on How to successfully harvest short, patchy crops is available on the department’s 2017 growing season resources webpage along with other helpful information to navigate the 2017 season.

Source: Government of Western Australia.