BALGONIE, Sask. — Nathan Gregg of the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute says farmers probably aren’t as in tune with their combines as they used to be.
In the days when combine cabs were less comfortable or didn’t exist at all, farmers could tell what was happening by the feel and sound of the machine.
However, combine horsepower has more than doubled since the early 1990s, material handing has improved and cabs are so well-appointed that farmers can enjoy the ride and listen to satellite radio.
The feedback system is more or less decoupled from the operator, he told a recent Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation seminar.
“We used to have a tangible,” he said. “You got vibrated out of your seat.”
The operators of today’s combines can’t necessarily hear when they need to make adjustments, he added.
As well, the changes in equipment aren’t always uniform. The shoe or size of separator might not match the ability of the combine to feed material with a larger header.
Spreaders and choppers have also changed.
“Think back to machines that had a single whirlybird on the back of your combine,” he said.
“That was your residue management package.”
However, residue can now be thrown up to 18 metres, which means farmers who get out and look at what’s right behind the combine aren’t looking at the true losses.
Crops have also changed. Improved genetics and varieties mean they thresh differently and don’t always need the horsepower that the farmer buys.
“They didn’t develop 600 horsepower combines for Saskatchewan canola,” Gregg said.
“It can come in handy at times for Saskatchewan wheat.”
However, that horsepower will do 300 bushel per acre corn and unload on the go with no problem.
“If you’re utilizing all of that horsepower they’ve given you all day long, I guarantee you there’s loss going out the back,” he said.
Lower and higher horsepower combines should be side-by-side down the field for a good portion of a harvesting day. The opportunity to use the extra horsepower comes when the crop gets tough or weather changes.
Gregg said cut height can also affect losses.
“Just reducing the material other than grain ratio from 1.2 to .85, in other words cutting six inches higher, can equal a 49 percent increase in capacity,” he said.