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Harvest Report: Bumper crops, but rough harvest conditions in western Canada

Case IH Axial-Flow 7120 Combine harvesting wheat

In western Canada, Mother Nature blessed farmers with a great growing season – but a seriously challenging harvest – says this week’s guest blogger, Louis Melanson. A Case IH combine product specialist since 1999, Melanson has been with the company for 35 years. He grew up on a farm in eastern Canada, and has always been drawn to big agricultural iron. He wound up working with combines because he was intrigued by the capability to use 30-foot plus headers at 5 mph to harvest canola, which is a very light seed. Melanson jokes that he became a combine specialist “by reading the manual.” 

Canola and wheat account for the majority of crops in my area, along with some barley. We’re probably 90 percent done with canola. But it’s getting tougher to get that last 10 percent out, because the snow’s starting to fall. Customers can only combine a few hours a day.

Wheat and barley are pretty much done. Harvest was very difficult because we didn’t have the drying conditions that we normally get, so it was a long, drawn out process.  The season stayed fairly cool, so the crops didn’t have a chance to mature properly.

When you’ve got really good yields but no heat to dry down the crops – followed by rain – that’s when combining gets tricky, because both wheat and barley tend to get heavy and lodge.  And once it lodges, it stays down until you can get it off.

The bigger Case IH Axial-Flow combines really stood out in these conditions, because you need the extra horsepower to lift up the down, tangled crop and get under it. When the crop is down and tangled, the amount of straw the combine has to process becomes excessive. This is when higher horsepower becomes very important, to process all that extra material. In particular, the 9120, because it also has the largest cleaning system in the industry (10,075 square inches of cleaning area).

The 9120 was great for canola too, because canola’s a really light seed, sometimes lighter than the chaff. Case IH combines handle that with a large cleaning system that uses more of a sieving action. With light seed, you use a large sieve so you can separate the kernels from the chaff by running low wind from the cleaning fan. With corn they just open everything up and blow like heck. We have to go the opposite direction, with very low wind so we don’t accidently blow the canola out of the combine, which can obviously become very costly. Harvesting is very rewarding to the customer, the more quality grain you can put in the grain tank the more revenue you’re getting.

As far as headers go, customers with 30-, 35- and 40-foot draper headers  had the advantage in a lodged crop. The drapers have a tendency to feed the combine a lot more smoothly, and you can cut a lot closer to the ground at higher ground speed, thanks to the automatic header height control system that follows ground contour.

Because of the tough harvest conditions, I spent a lot of time in the field this fall, helping customers fine-tune their combines to get maximum performance. Not everyone understands how a crop behaves inside the combine. Adjusting a combine for the right crop condition is a combination of proper concave opening and rotor speed, so you don’t damage the seed or break up the straw, which can overload the cleaning system. The cleaning system is a combination of proper sieve setting and wind speed, to obtain a clean sample in the grain tank and minimize loss behind the combine. That’s what you need to know to get maximum grain in the tank. That’s why I’m here: to help customers understand the principle of combining, which makes the combines perform better, which increases money in the customers’ pockets.

All in all, yields were good to great. Canola yields are in the 60- to 75-bushels per acre range. Wheat’s running anywhere between 60- and 70-bushels per acre, and barley’s in the 90-120 range. After three years of drought in certain areas, and two years of flooding and excessive moisture in other areas, ample moisture and bumper crops are a welcome relief.

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