A number of no-tillers may have enjoyed extra benefits during this fall’s tough harvest season by having auto-guidance installed on the combine. As a number of Chippewa County, Minn., growers learned after a severe windstorm in 2008, auto-guidance is a tremendous asset when dealing with twisted and tangled corn.
Tim Radermacher says these Minnesota growers quickly learned that trying to harvest down corn without auto-guidance was time consuming, energy inefficient and extremely stressful to the combine operator.
The major problem without auto-guidance was trying to stay directly on the rows, says Radermacher, a farm business management instructor for Minnesota West Community and Technology College in Granite Falls and Montevideo, Minn.
Once the operator steered off the rows, the combine missed some corn and the operator had to steer back over the row. This resulted in either leaving unharvested corn in the field or having to back up the combine to get the unharvested corn.
With an RTK guidance system, Radermacher says the operator only needed to get the corn head on the correct rows at the start of each pass and let the unit steer the combine to the other end of the field without stopping. Setting the combine for auto-guidance was no problem since auto-steer had been used on the tractors the previous spring while planting the corn crop.
Radermacher says growers with auto-guidance harvested an average of 120 acres of downed corn per day. This compared to only 80 acres of tangled corn harvested daily by growers not using auto-guidance.
“We normally calculate a 5% to 7% gain in efficiency using RTK auto-guidance, but with tangled and twisted corn, the gain in efficiency more than doubled,” he says.
Radermacher found an unpredicted cost savings for growers with the auto-guidance system. A grower with 1,600 acres of corn who combined 120 acres per day with auto-guidance could wrap up harvest in 14 days. But if he only harvested 80 acres per day without auto-steer, it would take a total of 20 days to harvest 1,600 acres.
“Though not all of the corn acres were wind damaged, we estimated a minimum of 3 to 4 days less harvesting time with the use of the RTK auto-guidance technology,” he says. “We not only saved 15% to 20% on energy costs, but the growers also saved the same impressive percentage in terms of harvest equipment hours, human hours and operator fatigue.”
While I’ve never met a no-tiller that was sorry that he or she had invested in auto-guidance, here’s one more example of how growers found it turned out to be a profitable buy during unfortunate harvesting conditions like many no-tillers faced this fall.