Dealing with Downed CornThe high-powered windstorm that made its way across the Midwest on Aug. 10, 2020, damaged upwards of 37 million cropping acres across several states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to the USDA.

Images of fields with corn that’s been totally flattened started circulating soon after the storm, illustrating the power of the winds that reached more than 100 miles per hour at times in some locations.

Dealing with the aftermath of a big storm is part-and-parcel of farming, of course, and farmers are often able to manage their crops after a storm with existing equipment by making a few special adjustments. But for those times when the standard setups won’t do, a new solution may be the only option.

Trading Up 

Mike Starkey of Brownsburg, Ind., had one of those experiences in 2018 when a storm blew through his area and knocked over his corn. He needed to get it off the ground as soon as possible, but when he tried to harvest it with his John Deere corn head he couldn’t get the header’s snouts under the corn.

“I tried, but I bent a snout and knew this wasn’t going to work,” he says.

So he traded in his Deere corn head for a Drago corn head and says it worked great.

“It has sensors that keep the snouts about 2 inches above the ground,” he says. “Also, the snouts are at a better angle — they’re more parallel to the ground.”

Starkey says with the Drago head, he was able to salvage most of his crop. “My county agent had been out to see the field before I got the Drago and then he came out after and he couldn’t believe what a great job it did.”

Starkey considers himself fortunate that the 2020 “Derecho” missed him, but he’s now prepared for the next time he finds himself in the eye of the storm.

Altered States 

Alpha, Ill., no-tiller Marion Calmer, owner of Calmer Corn Heads, says his farm was not affected by this year’s storm either, aside from being without power for a while.

“But the next morning, the Calmer Corn Heads phone lines went wild,” he says. “We had a lot of people calling up, asking what they should do and looking to buy reels and whatnot.”

For farmers who can get by without a new corn head, here are 5 combine adjustment and harvesting tips Calmer recommends trying after a big storm.

1) Adjust the corn head angle. With downed corn that is lodged in a direction other than “with the row,” you need a flatter angle. Calmer suggests a 23-25-degree angle for standing corn and 20-22 degrees for downed corn. To change the angle, push the bottom out or pull the top beam of the corn head toward the combine. Park the combine on a level surface and lower the header until the lowest point of the row unit is 2 inches above the ground. Place a protractor on the stripper plate and read the angle. Adjust as necessary.

For corn lodged “with the row,” a steeper angle allows the gathering chain lugs to get closer to the ground for retrieving stalks lying parallel to the row units.

2) Synchronize gathering chain speed to ground speed. The gathering chain lugs should move toward the header at the same speed as the corn stalks. This will help prevent the gathering chains from breaking more stalks or pulling root balls out of the ground and into the combine.

For speeds of 2 mph, the gathering chains should revolve at approximately 30 RPMs. For 3 mph, they should be set at approximately 45 RPMs.

To count the RPMs, mark a lug with orange or yellow paint. This will give you a visual reference as you count the chain revolutions.

To adjust the gathering chain, install Calmer’s 6-tooth gathering-chain drive sprockets for John Deere 40-90 series corn heads or 7-tooth gathering-chain drive sprockets on New Holland and Case IH heads. This slows only the gathering chains but keeps the stalk rolls running at full speed.

3) Adjust the cross auger and stripper plates. Raise the cross auger, setting the clearance between the tray and the auger flighting at 2 inches for downed corn, as opposed to 1.75 inches for standing corn. This allows the dislodged material floating above the poly-deck covers to be sucked under the auger and transported to the feeder house

Opening the stripper plates reduces the energy required to move dislodged material through the row unit. Set it to 1.5 inches for 200-bushel downed corn, as opposed to 1.25 inches for 200-bushel standing corn. Keep the front setting ¼ inch tighter than the rear setting near the gearbox.

4) Add, remove or alter. You’ll probably find it helpful to make a few adjustments to the combine attachments:

  • Adding plastic paddles on every other gathering chain lug will increase the conveying capacity of chain.
  • Removing the rubber ear savers reduces the energy required to flower material to the row unit.
  • Adding weight to poly divider snouts will help them stay under the canopy.
  • Grinding the wear shoe tips of the dividers to give them more pitch will also help them stay under the canopy. Be careful not to make them too aggressive so the self-engage and fold underneath the head.
  • Installing a corn reel will provide more energy for transporting dislodged material from divider snouts to the cross auger. If you don’t have a reel, there’s one sure way to know if you need one. “If you can’t see the rows, it’s time for you to buy a reel,” says Calmer.

5) Start harvesting on the downwind side of the field. If the corn rows run north and south, and the corn in blown down to the east, start on the east side and work your way to the west. This will significantly reduce end divider plugging and bunching.