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Still needed: canola combine

There is still a case for more research on combining speed, so we don’t lose valuable product

In the January 9, 2012, issue this column did a piece about combining canola and the need to adjust speed to the crop conditions and combine separation capacity. To recap, we said that in a 70 bushel canola crop in fall 2011 at Annaheim, Sask., it was necessary to go 1.5 m.p.h. to capture all the canola. The swaths were huge, the weather was hot and dry and sieves overloaded easily.

Fast forward to August 30, 2015 on my Dundurn farm. The canola harvest started, swaths were heavy but dry and it was no problem to make 3.5 to four m.p.h. or better. The yield monitor bounced around as always with most readings in the 40s but a few in 50s and 30s.

This old fossil was left to herd the beautiful machine to provide a supper break for my neighbour Curtis, who does my harvest. This is my 60th year of herding combines around a field. A couple of very uniform looking swaths came along so I decided to do a little experiment.

The S680 does not record the bushels in the tank but does record the bushels and acres since starting a field. That data was recorded at the start and end of each swath.

At 2.5 m.p.h. there was 10 bu./acre more than when I went 3.5 m.p.h. Now, one rep does not an experiment make, but it did justify a closer look. After a bit more speed variation and monitor watching, work proceeded at 2.5 m.p.h. At that speed some 60s would appear from time to time and the field average continued to increase for the main part of the quarter. A few wet, salty acres always leave much to be desired and the average declined.

I watch with interest the various methods to capture and measure how much canola a combine is leaving in the field. But, does that really tell the true story? The sample size is so small that interpretation is problematic. And in the heat of the harvest how many folks are actually catching samples and in how many fields? Also, some combines have internal choppers so there is no way to gather losses and weigh them.

Modern combines have progressed to greater and greater threshing capacity. I remember a MF 8570 in 140 bushel oats. Yes, two m.p.h. was all she would make, grunting as hard as it could. So, we need capacity. Bigger rotor. But now we are underpowered. Bigger engine. How many big models of a given colour are the same machine with more power? Now the problem is solved. We can thresh a 60 bushel wheat crop easily and in canola four or five m.p.h. is easy.

But, has separation capacity kept pace? In many cases I think not.

So, to measure losses in relation to speed of travel why not use all the fancy technology that is already on the combine? In the end, the bushels in the hopper are what matters. (This shows my age. I know I should say tank, but I still like hopper.)

The Masseys show what is in the tank, but I think all makes show what has been done for acres and bushels in a field. So, we can use that data to see what is happening in a given swath. It is no trouble to get folks to come along for a ride (farmers should charge city slickers for combine rides). Make up a little booklet of forms as per the table and let the side-rider record the numbers. Techie folks can probably come up with an easier way than paper. Grain carts that record weight are now common so many may use that to check on the combine monitor.

But, my point: there should be some real research work done to determine the protocols required to get reliable results and there should be some meaningful comparisons of the difference color of paint makes. It is likely that percentage engine capacity utilization will be a useful reference point between different fields/crops. If the engine is grunting its hardest is separation really happening?

I am sure young, smart and tech savvy folk can do much better than this digitally challenged old fossil, but I think the idea is sound and if implemented will save folks bushels of money.

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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