Examine grain handling system now to avoid harvest delays next year

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PRINCETON, Ky. – Now is a great time for farmers to reflect on how well their grain harvesting and handling system worked this past harvest season and decide if changes are needed to eliminate delays for the combine.

If a weak link is discovered, put a high priority on fixing the problem before next season to avoid frustrations that add more stress to an already stressful chore – harvesting the crop, said Sam McNeill, University of Kentucky Extension agricultural engineer.

Reason for delay. Farmers may want to ask themselves if they encountered any unwanted harvest delays during the corn harvest this fall or in previous years. Delays not due to mechanical breakdowns often can be avoided by matching each component in the system to the combine’s capacity.

If unwanted delays were experienced, consider talking with an agricultural engineer, extension educator or grain system analyst to evaluate your present system, identify possible weak links and correct the problem, McNeill said.

Computer programs are available that allow farmers to predict the harvest capacity of their system with a specific set of components. By mixing and matching different size equipment for their operation, a farmer can play “what if” to select the optimum set of equipment that matches the combine. Computer evaluations require a little time from the producer, but are usually free so they certainly cost less than trial and error in the field.

Ask questions. To help assess the performance of a grain harvesting and handling system begin by asking some questions.

Did any single piece of equipment create a backup in the flow of grain which resulted in slowing down or stopping the combine? This could be due to an undersized grain cart or truck, receiving conveyor, wet holding tank, dryer or dry grain conveyor. Any component in the chain of equipment the grain comes in contact with as it moves from the field to the final storage bin or elevator could contribute to a backup and perhaps bring the combine to a halt.

Delays for the combine reduce harvest capacity and increase equipment and labor costs. If a weak link is identified, a trip to the nearest farm equipment show this winter may be a good place to do some comparison shopping among several equipment vendors for some good deals, McNeill said.

Get discounts now. Winter discounts often are offered to help manufacturers and dealers spread their orders more uniformly throughout the year, which helps them control costs for labor and material. Purchase discounts are usually available on a diminishing scale during the winter and may be lost altogether if farmers wait until late spring to place an equipment order.

To put this all in proper perspective, it’s important to recognize that every grain system has a weak link in terms of handling capacity. Obviously, each component in the system needs to be sized to match the capacity of the combine, otherwise productivity may suffer.

If a farmer’s grain harvesting, hauling, handling, drying system could use an upgrade, be sure to spend money wisely to improve the efficiency of the system. The general rule of thumb for upgrading grain systems to match combine capacity is to give priority to dryers, followed by receiving conveyors, then wet holding bins and pit capacity.

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