For farmers who practice low-till or no-till, residue management is essential.
“We’re leaving a lot more residue on the field and that residue brings some benefits because it traps moisture and reduces erosion,” explains Trevor Thiessen, president and co-owner of Redekop Manufacturing in Saskatoon. “If straw is not chopped finely and spread evenly, it can also create challenges.”
Why it matters: New machinery innovations have not only improved straw chopping and spreading capabilities but have made the entire process easier for farmers.
Thiessen says poor residue management can leave piles that make seeding difficult, leading to poor emergence and increased risk of second flushes of weeds.
New machinery innovations have not only improved straw chopping and spreading capabilities but have made the entire process easier for farmers. The following are the latest features available on straw choppers.
Increased spreader widths
The move to larger machines with wider headers helped speed up harvesting; however, Kelly Kravig, Case IH harvesting marketing manager for combines and headers, says the 45-foot drapers on most combines can only spread 35 feet, leaving uneven piles of straw on the field.
Case IH introduced Axial-Flow 8250 and 9250 model choppers with optional hood-mounted external Xtra-Chop choppers fitted to the rear of the combine that chop and package residue and spread it across the full required working width. The windrow opening is 45 per cent larger, providing better material flow.
The New Holland Opti-Spread Plus system also spreads residue uniformly across the entire working width. The unit, which is mounted behind the straw chopper, spreads straw up to 45 feet.
While a lot of farmers can get along with a 40-blade chopper, there are some circumstances where a 120-blade chopper is better suited, according to Kravig. He points to producers growing wheat and barley in Western Canada, where outstanding yields create “extreme” levels of straw. “Those producers may require a much more aggressive chopper,” he adds.
The high-speed chopper on New Holland combines runs at 3100 revolutions per minute on the CR6.90 to CR7.90 models and 4000 rpm on CR8.90 and larger models to ensure fine chopping.
Case IH also added more residue options to its 250 series combines, including a Magna-Cut Extra Fine Cut Deluxe Spreader that uses 120 rotating blades and 40 fixed counter knife blades for the finest residue cuts. This innovation won the AE50 award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
In the past, farmers had to get out of the cab to make any adjustments, but the latest technologies allow for all controls to happen from inside the cab.
“When other manufacturers were developing features for the combine, we were developing features for the driver,” says Luiz Miotto, combine and headers marketing product manager for New Holland. “More and more, everything is coming inside the cab.”
On New Holland combines, the spread width on a CR combine model can be adjusted electronically from the cab to change residue patterns to offset crosswinds or to adjust to field conditions or future planting.
The Case IH Opti-Spread Plus system allows farmers to adjust the speed of the chaff spreader and the discs to counteract wind or side slope impacts without shutting down the combines. John Deere also made upgrades to its S series combines, including enhanced residue management features such as the optional feature to set the chopper knife bank in four different positions without leaving the cab to enhance residue placement.
Increased efficiency, effectiveness
While mainline manufacturers have incorporated high-end residue management technologies on their combines, some producers are struggling with equipment that has inefficient or ineffective residue packages.
Redekop created the MAV Straw Chopper to help producers upgrade their machines to manage the capacity of their residue in a more efficient, more effective way at better price points than going back to the original equipment manufacturer, according to Thiessen. The bolt-on devices fit existing machines.
“We’re trying to upgrade that one component of your machine that isn’t working efficiently for you to make it so you don’t have to buy a new combine,” he explains.
Coming soon: Artificial intelligence
Manufacturers are constantly innovating and Miotto believes artificial intelligence will be the next frontier in residue management.
“We have moved so many operations into the cab that we’re starting to overwhelm the driver,” he says. “He has a lot of decisions to make and needs to know how — and when — to play with all of the switches.”
Developing residue management packages with cameras, radar, weather stations and other sensors will enable manufacturers to use artificial intelligence and automation to adjust on the go, correcting for land grade, wind direction, straw composition and more.
“Five years from now, automation will be the word,” Miotto says. “We are already asking, ‘How can we… reduce the amount of decisions the operator needs to make for their work to be even more efficient?’ That is what’s next for residue management.”
— Jodi Helmer is an experienced journalist who writes about food, gardening, farming, the environment and sustainable living.