After disasterous harvest 2018, what do I do different next year?
This harvest has been a nightmare, and as of November 23, still not over. Need to change something drastically going forward, looking for advice on what to improve. Sorry for the extreme length...
Started out in early September with extremely tough standing wheat, two and a half months later, still going on extremely tough( and still green stems) canola. Multiple rains, large wet snow events and as much as -20C at night in between.
All straight cut with auger headers.
2 of 1990 MF 8460 combines, 3000 and 4000 hours. Usually run both in cereals one in canola unless in a panic(everything was a panic this year)
UMHW plastic under entirity of both headers to keep the clay from sticking and pushing.
Ran crop lifters on one header, one without, both a blessing and a curse.
Furthest haul is only 5 miles, most within a couple miles.
Late model 1370 auger to keep up.
Tandem truck and tridem trailer pulled by tractor for hauling, often spot the trailer in field for overflow, then haul with the truck, or alternate as each one gets full.
Set up with aeration in almost all worthwhile bins, temp cables, giving the ability to go non stop at almost any moisture.
I grew all long season crops (CPS wheat and canola, only 40 acres of barley) this year, in a very short season area, so I missed all the decent weather in early September before the snow. The smoke stopped all maturity in August, everything was still green a month later.
All crops were flat from snow, wheat and barley pasted to the ground in many areas, if not then heads were hanging right to the ground, even heavy canola almost pasted to the ground.
Ground was muddy or even saturated at surface. Roots would pull out with no effort at all, plugging header constantly.
Mostly flat to gently rolling land.
Heavy extremely sticky clay soil.
Extreme Mole hills on rented land.
A few rocks, most quarters need about 10 rocks per year need picked, but a couple small areas have lots of rocks
A few acres of fresh breaking every year with resulting sticks/roots.
All no-till, resulting in fields not a smooth as possible.
I typically roll barley fields after seeding since it is always lodged, never canola( don't like to bury the seeds any deeper), and rarely wheat, since it stands so much better.
Harvested at temperatures between -20 and +20. Harvested in snow, soaking wet, frosty and even over dry crumbly wheat.
Canola never matured, and even frosts couldn't break the straw down. Still green, sappy and tough as willows.
Downtime on combines was atrocious this fall. The best days might have been only 50% down time, the bad days probably 80% or more downtime and I'm probably being generous. Lots of breakdowns, but almost all were sell inflicted wounds Almost entirely due to the adverse conditions.
-Ingesting rocks, roots, dirt, random metal objects, crop lifters, green material.
-Broken knives and guards. Even doing canola scalping the dirt constantly.
-Broken crop lifters, which result in broken reel as they spring up and catch the reel.
-Damaged table auger flighting from ingesting rocks or roots, damaged areas then wrapped even worse when conditions get tough.
-plugging feeder house, wrapping rear beater, plugged cylinder, wrapping table auger, plugging table
auger, plugging(bridging) straw chopper.
-Whenever the table auger wraps up with tough canola straw it forces the stripper plate back in the
bolted slots requiring readjusting, even bends the flighting.
-Plugging sieves from wet, frost, or snow.
-Wire brushing snow or goop from sieves every 1/2 mile
yesterday, removing top sieves to clean bottom occasionally too.
-plugging elevators from wet material or dirt
-broken elevator chain
-Damaged feeder chain slats from rocks
-Cleaning out rock traps constantly
-broken feeder chains, resulting from slat bolts coming loose(lock nuts, not very old)
-Bent/broke two cylinder shafts from wet gobs/wrapping
-Bent rear beater shaft from wrapping/plug.
-Broke concave adjuster linkages and levers in many different places from wet slugs going through.
-3 cylinder drive belts
-3 knife heads
-3 boxes of knives, 25 each.
-Burnt out reverser motors
-Ice in fuel working at cold temps.
-Broken straw walker crank, likely from plugged walkers previously.
-Canola so heavy and tangled it broke or bent dividers.
Other self inflicted wounds: backed combine into a tree in the middle of the night( I take credit for that one) Tarp strap fell into unloader belt derailing it. Bent dividers from hugging the ground on hills. One combine caught on fire from dust under engine. No damage but lots of lost time getting it out, and washing the dust out.
Most normal wear and tear repairs were minor, a few bearings, belts, hoses, and most were a result of the fact that we easily put 3 times the hours on the machines than should have for the bushels done.
Other noteworthy repairs: Flat combine drive tire ( nail), changed out combine drive tire hole chewed right through, flat truck tires, wrecked truck tire(obstacle), trailer tire, loader tractor drive tire hauling straw, blown wagon tire, pickup truck tire. Auger: 2 bearings, blown shear bolts, wrecked sprocket, plugged multiple times with wet grain, or over filled bin. 2 tractor PTO clutches wrecked from plugged auger.
Help was hit or miss, I had help lined up early on, but because the season stretched out forever, they had other commitments. Ended up training 3 different combine operators on short notice, not their fault, but the learning curve is steep, resulting in many extra disasters and breakdown/downtime.
Made the poor decision to have helpers do some of the fixing so I could keep at least one machine going at capacity, regretted that either due to the time lost or later when the repair didn't go as planned, again, not their fault.
Atrocious fuel bill.
Large labour bill
Combines and headers needing a lot of repairs before next year.
On a positive note, every root, rock and piece of scrap metal has been picked by the combines.
I've been doing all straight cut because with the lack of heat units we get in the fall, swaths almost never dry after a rain or snow, but standing does, but this year it was the wrong thing to do completely. We used to use a swath lifter to attempt to dry them, that's not even a option with canola. We had a brief enough window of very good weather to easily get all the harvest done if we would have been effortlessly picking up swaths instead of destroying equipment straight cutting flat crops. And the swaths would have dried in that period as well. For a few years we swathed right ahead of the combine, may have to go back to that.
Straight cutting canola seemed to be working until this year, although it does delay harvest by a lot. This is now the 4th year in a row we have combined canola while there was snow on the ground, that doesn't work with swaths. All pod shatter varieties this year so we were able to be quite abusive with the reel to pick it up. But it never loses its sap standing, the straw is a nightmare to get through even when the seed is ripe. May have to go back to swathing canola to get it done sooner. I am normally a one man show, but do hire help for harvest and seeding as required. I don't have time to swath and combine, but looking back this year, the combine downtime from picking up flat crops would have left lots of time for swathing. Plugging the swather has much smaller consequences than plugging the combine, and then the combine operator doesn't need to have as much skill or practice to pick up swaths.
The only land roller we have is a 20' without wheels I made for underseeding hay crops, works well, but not interested in covering thousands of acres with that. Does a factory roller without water filled drums have enough weight to push rocks ( or roots) into no till clay? How do you compensate for seeding depth if you roll afterwards? I seed with dutch double shoot precision on a Concord and it leaves deep troughs which collapse when they are rolled or driven on, a half inch deep can become 1.5" in a hurry.
The worst areas for plugging the knife/header were those that had been worked due to the wet 2016 harvest and had no structure to the soil. Some very peaty soil was almost impossible to cut without plugging every few feet( not exaggerating). Working the land to smooth the surface would make that worse.
The obvious answer is I need more combine capacity, and was considering upgrading to a single machine. But I never reached capacity for these all year, it was always header that was limiting capacity, or power for chopping tough straw, never losses or threshing capacity. But when I look at the repairs, a newer bigger machine would just have meant bigger parts bills and longer waits ( I have a parts machine and parts header, wasn't held up on parts, and rarely even needed to buy parts in spite of the number of break downs). And most importantly, I don't want to subject a newer machine to these conditions. We always deal with flat barley, wheat not as bad.
Compounding the slow harvest was dropping straw, so we couldn't unload on the go without the truck or trailer piling up straw, had to stop every time. Extreme dust, when the wheat finally dried it was so over ripe and probably moldy, had to clean windows constantly and still couldn't even see the header, rads and air filters were a daily issue. Also have cows and after the drought this summer, I had no grass left and had to move them constantly, move bales, fix or install fences to find them enough to eat on stubble and hay fields.
I've probably answered my own questions by the time I typed this out.
Rolling every acre. Picking every single rock and root. Still can't find every piece of old rusty farm machinery etc. Can't see most of the rocks or roots through the trash on the surface either.
I don't even own a functional swather anymore, but probably should have one in case this happens again, perhaps swath at least some of the canola, especially the Invigor which is worse than willows when wet or cold. And do all the cereals if flat.
I knew it was a big risk having all long season crops for the first time this year, but typically hail and drowning are our biggest economic losses, and barley is the worst for both of those, but may need to keep some in the rotation to start harvesting sooner.
I thought we were well prepared for whatever nature could throw at us this fall. Started out with mediocre crops, all standing ( no rain all summer to flatten anything, literally). Added aeration to any remaining big bins, upgraded to a much bigger faster and newer auger, had help and back up help lined up. Have used these combines in enough adverse conditions that I knew what to do to make them function in anything.
What else can you recommend?
Justin Trudeau, accomplishing miracles since 2015, making Pierre Elliot look smart, competent and western friendly.