An Ounce Of Prevention: Your Pre-Harvest Checklist

Aug 01, 2022

Combine harvesting soybeans in field at sunset
The first seven months of 2022 have evaporated, and mid-South farmers now find themselves within a stone’s throw of harvest season. Gone are the days of relying on time-worn hunches, a can of WD-40, and the Farmer’s Almanac when preparing for the season. In today’s high-tech farming, a pre-harvest checklist for combine set-up and calibration is mandatory for producing the accurate data that will inform next year’s high yields.
Experts like Clint Blaha, an Ag Technology Specialist for GreenPoint Ag, advise a thorough approach to preparation before entering the crop field. “There are several things farmers should address before cranking the combine, and most of it relates to yield calibration,” says Blaha. “You must have correct data going into your monitor to make accurate in-field decisions. A lot of producers use planting and fertility prescriptions based off their yield data, so if that isn’t accurate, your following year’s prescriptions will be flawed.”
Blaha recommends starting with sensors. “You want to make sure that both your moisture sensors and mass flow sensors are all free of debris,” he says. “Depending on the combine, you may have to open some pins and use a small auger to make sure all of last year’s remnants are cleaned out. With an in-tank moisture sensor, you should hear the unit cycle the plunger down and back when you crank up your combine. If you don’t hear that happen, you’ll want to get it checked out; there may be a problem with the motherboard or some other component.”
Special attention should be paid to the grain yield impact plate, a key component of the overall yield monitor system designed to measure the harvested grain mass flow, moisture content, and speed to determine total crop harvested, Blaha explains. “You want to make sure that the poly surface of the impact plate is smooth and without holes,” he says.  “To operate properly, the plate has to have free range of motion, so always make sure the area directly behind it is free of debris.”
Next, Blaha advises to check GPS offsets, which measure the lateral distance — left or right — from the center of the combine to the center of the GPS receiver. “Make sure these are correct in your display,” Blaha says. “This is important because when you’re going through your field, the GPS is collecting data and showing your geo reference to where you’re physically located. You need that data to be accurate. Then, complete your vibration, temperature, and ground speed calibrations.”
Moisture calibration, Blaha points out, can be accomplished with a hand-held meter after the combining process has begun. “You should use that meter to check the moisture of the grain in your weigh wagon,” he says. “Then, go back to the combine and compare for an accurate assessment.”
Next, producers should confirm that headers are set to the correct height for the crop being harvested, Blaha says. “When your headers drop to the preset level, the yield monitor kicks on and starts reading whatever you’re harvesting,” he explains. “At the end of each row, lifting the header then shuts the yield monitor off while the combine turns around for the next run. If the headers are set incorrectly, the yield monitor will keep recording during those end-of-the-row turns and will throw off your data.”
After these mechanical components are addressed, it’s time to look at software. Blaha advises farmers to start by making sure all monitor software packages are up to date. “Most monitors have a slightly different method of achieving this, but usually, it’s fairly straightforward,” he says. “Your local Co-op staff can help with the updating process, as well.”
He adds that a high-capacity USB thumb drive should always be available in the cab. “You want to check your iPad storage and have that thumb drive handy if you need it,” he says. “You’d be surprised how many stories I’ve heard about guys out in the combine deleting photos and videos from their iPad just to have enough space to keep running.”
Field boundaries should also be addressed and correctly entered into the monitor. “A lot of fields are right next to each other, so you want to make sure your boundaries aren’t overlaying,” says Blaha. “A quick, simple fix like this can be the difference between a full day’s work and a bunch of downtime. This is something you can work out with your local ag technology specialist.”
Blaha stresses that farmers should make these checks and calibrations at least once per season, and more often if possible. “It’s a no-brainer when switching from corn to beans, because you’ll have different seed size hitting that impact plate,” he says. “Beyond that, [calibrating your combine] is one of those chores that is hard to carve out time for but will definitely pay off over time.”
For help with combine set up and calibration, contact your GreenPoint Ag Ag Technology Specialist.

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