Harvesting Corn Nonstop

Being efficient is important during harvest for many reasons. When conditions are right you want to get crops harvested in a timely manner while those conditions are still in effect. Maximizing productivity can also cut fuel costs and puts less hours on machinery which preserves value when it’s time to sell or trade equipment.

Our combine and grain cart taking a rest at the end of the day.

One way we keep the combine combining is through the use of a grain cart. The cart allows the combine operator to unload grain while harvesting so he doesn’t have to stop to fill a truck. Combines have separate hour meters for the engine and threshing components. You’d be surprised to see how much time a combine spends not harvesting. You have idle time, road travel, moving in and out of tool sheds, and so on. All this time adds up. If memory serves, the last combine we traded had close to 1000 engine hours and 650 separator hours. So a machine whose sole purpose is to harvest grain spent 35% of its life not harvesting. That’s why we often use a grain cart especially in corn. Corn yield per acre is much higher than soybeans which fills the combine frequently. Not so frequently this year, but still much more so than our soybeans. Corn generally yields 3-4 times more grain per acre than beans.

In a normal year I can’t get the combine to the far end of a field and back before it’s full. Without a grain cart that means stopping somewhere in the middle to pull out of the corn and drive over to a truck waiting to be filled. Then I either have to drive back to where I stopped or start a new pass. That’s generally what I do if we don’t have someone around to operate the cart. I’ll harvest as much as I can to fill the combine and cut as many full passes as I can. Then when I get to where I might be waiting for an empty truck to return I go back and get the short rows I couldn’t finish earlier.

Last night I fired up the camera on my tablet I have mounted on the window of the combine cab so you can see the combine unloading on the move.

You can see how this process keeps the combine doing what it does best instead of spending half the time driving loaded or empty across the field to get unloaded without harvesting anything. John Deere Machine Sync is a great new technology allowing a combine operator to take control of the tractor pulling the grain cart when it gets close enough. The tractor will link up with the combine and stay a certain distance away. After that the combine operator has the ability to shuttle the cart back and forth in order to fill the cart to capacity. If you’ve ever driven a or filled a grain cart you know with two humans at the controls of two machines you can’t quite get the cart full every time. Another part of this technology benefits a grain cart operator chasing more than one combine. The grain cart can now monitor which combine needs unloaded first and chase that machine down before it gets full. Pretty cool!

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  1. I haven’t had the opportunity to unload on the go very often. We don’t use a cart due to the additional expense of a tractor, cart and having to move it from job to job. It DEFINITELY is an art to fill one on the go!

    1. If you can drive a tractor down a corn row you can do this no problem. I haven’t run the cart in corn this year, but if memory serves me I run the inside right front dual in the outside wheeltrack of the combine from the last pass. Since we cut beans on an angle that gets a bit trickier. You’ve got to drive straight in the same direction as the combine without letting all those rows in front of you play tricks on your eyes with the angles. And you need to look behind you at least half the time because the tire of the grain cart is less than 5′ from the head if you pull up far enough. This is due to the corn head being 20′ wide and the platform for beans being 35′. You couldn’t do it with a 40′ head with an auger extension. Couldn’t unload onto a truck without one either.

  2. Remote linking the tractor is just really awesome. Without that slaving (which is what I’d call it in computers if one computer is controlling the other), I imagine trying to get the cart full isn’t the only problem. How stressful would it be to drive both vehicles just right in parallel?!

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