Source: Drago news release
Corn growers generally express confidence in their ability to manage deck plate gaps and limit kernel loss during harvest, but a field study from Dragotec USA suggests potential yield loss may be more significant than they believe.
The study, which used electronic sensors to track the movement of Drago’s automatic, self-adjusting deck plates, revealed some eye-opening facts about the variability of stalk thickness at harvest and the potential yield loss associated with it.
“We wanted to quantify the overall ability of Drago’s automatic deck plates to minimize gaps and related yield loss in harvest conditions,” says Dustin Bollig, Iowa farmer and North American Marketing Director for Drago.
To help conduct the study, Drago worked with HeadSight, an independent manufacturer of header height control systems, for measurement and analysis of deck plate movement. Highly accurate, the sensors could measure deck plate movements to 1/1000 of an inch.
Nearly 163 decisions per row per minute
“The sensors revealed a significant variability in stalk diameters – plant-to-plant as well as row-to-row,” Bollig says. “Harvesting at 4.0 mph, the automatic deck plates averaged 163 decisions per row per minute – adjusting from as little as one-eighth inch to as much as one-half inch.”
“We were all aware of the variability in the field and pleased to see how responsive the deck plates were adjusting to it,” Bollig says.
On a per acre basis, the automatic deck plates made nearly 5,390 decisions, involving adjustments from one-eighth inch or wider – including 1,582 decisions of a quarter-inch or more and 196 decisions of a half-inch or greater.
“Keep in mind that the threshold for deck plate yield loss starts at one-eighth inch, and each row unit averaged 606 independent decisions per acre involving that and more,” Bollig says. “The data also showed how both the left and the right deck plate of each row unit on the Drago GT worked in unison to minimize gaps.”
One of the more remarkable stats from the study was “deck plate spacing as a percentage of time,” Bollig says. “We could track the percentage of stalks at various thicknesses in the field we harvested. It showed that if your deck plates were set only for the most common stalk thickness, you would have been off nearly 75% of the time.”
Mother Nature doesn’t work that way
“Corn heads with hydraulically controlled deck plates are unable to compensate for row-to-row stalk variability, let alone the plant-to-plant variability within each row,” Bollig says. “Having the same gap setting for every row unit on a corn head assumes all of the stalks running through them are the same, too, and we know Mother Nature just doesn’t work that way.”
“The study confirmed the value of automatic, self-adjusting deck plates for minimizing gaps and capturing yield every minute and in every row the corn head is working,” Bollig says. “When you multiply the potential yield savings by the number of corn acres you grow, the difference can be significant.”
“Today’s farmers have too many distractions in the combine and too much variability in the field for operators to adequately manage their deck plates,” notes Bollig. “And it’s costing them yield. When corn was $7, we wanted every kernel, and now when corn is at $4, we need every kernel.”
*Graeme Quick field research, Iowa State University
Complete results and statistics from the study can be reviewed at dragotec.com/fieldstudy.