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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.

The details:

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.

The conditions:

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.

The problems:
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.

The results:

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?
 

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Ooohhh Deere
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Geez, it took me two nights to read your post JVW...........


There’s one simple answer.
Get a contractor to help with one of them sooper dooper Lexion things.
Apparently they can harvest pineapples under water they are that good............:sFun_nahnahna:

The post harvest thread after a season at your place should make for some entertaining reading.:1:
 

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My question is, where on earth in central alberta do you live? I realize central alberta is a very large area so you could be many miles away from me and I live around Red Deer. Yes harvest was very difficult. I am in awe of how well our Macdon FD75 performs in flat conditions. I don't know if this model of header would have helped you or not. How many acres of combining are you doing? Maybe it's to much???? Not really sure what would help when the weather just doesn't cooperate.
 

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I have one very small suggestion, not going to fix all your problems but put a never spill spout on the auger. They are about $500 I think.

Other than that it comes down to shorter season crops or more combine power.

Or maybe 2018 was just a **** year in your area and you just hope it doesn’t happen again.
 

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I’m not familiar with your combine, but any reason you don’t run one a little bigger? We run a 9610 with a 600 series head. Shaves the ground better than Gillette. I don’t have to harvest snow compacted crops, the the wheat that breaks down or is flattened from storms that setup does good for me.

Also know some who swath half and straight cut the other half of some crops. Only because some years swathing is the way and others straight cutting is.
 

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I grew all long season crops (CPS wheat and canola, only 40 acres of barley) this year, in a very short season area
I agree never going to bitch about a crappy harvest again after reading your post JVW. Maybe start from the beginning with shorter season variety’s & crops or a combination of short, mid, long. I agree with that dam smoke delaying maturity this year, but is your fertility program matching short growing season? You also commented that Barley always goes flat, why? Again maybe a good starting point before dropping a tonne of money on equipment upgrades.
GS
 

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There isn't really much you can do on a year like this. We were all pretty much in the same boat. Biggest problem I see is you are trying to harvest at this time of year, and there just comes a time you have to call it quits. Snow, cold and combining just don't mix. A grain dryer helps a lot. Straight cutting everything is a big risk, try swathing some every year. We had a fair bit of standing crop that went flatter than pi$$ on a plate, wish we had swathed it all, but how do you know, right? We farm in a short growing season as well, it does take some special planning for sure. We often plant barley first so we can get a good jump on harvest, unless it's a later spring then we go wheat first, but don't usually grow much wheat.
 

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It may be time to part ways with the 8460s. We ran a Claas 96 to around 4400 hrs until switching to an axial flow. The Claas certainly ran in some crappy conditions when the IH couldn't run but there are a lot of moving parts that do become problems. I follow your other posts about your Claas as they bring back memories. While the Claas did work fine for us we wouldn't go back, its still here - a $1000 in parts and could be in the field again but honestly, its better where it sits because our time is better spent on the newer combines.

Our barley lodging has gone away with adding potash to the fertilizer blend. A recommendation from local agronomist. Even though soil tests show K to be very high at 170-285 ppm it does not mean it is available to the plant. Even after the snow and rain this year the barley was standing fairly well because it is short, combining was simple with a HB and pickup reel.

You could add peas to the mix but then you need to be setup to harvest those when flat on the ground.

And perhaps the straight cut canola is creating issues if you are getting to it late in the season. The same genetics that allow you to combine it straight late in season also cause it to be difficult to combine late in season.

Having a useable swather is a necessary backup tool when things go bad. The one here will get $2000 at auction but does the job when needed to make combining easier. You don't need much of a swather if it spends most of its time parked in the pasture. All it needs to run is maybe 50 hrs on the occasional year.

Let me put it this way, ran a Claas 76 and then a 96 and piled the hours on combining in November and all the extra hours from all the problems from being that late. With the 2388 we do more acres and get done sooner while suffering through some very crappy wet harvests of 2010 and 2016. Though we did run the 96 in 2010 because it did the best for staying on top of the mush we were combining on. The IHs were putting the crop through fine but needed more flotation.
 

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Swath your canola... straight cutting it is a fad! The full bin alarm on your auger would probably help save time and a grain cart, it will allow you to drop straw and eliminate the need for the semi in the field while making moving grain from combined much more efficient. Downside is you need an extra operator (but can be very unskilled..... that was my job this year......)
We tried some wheat early in the season b4 the snow tested 20... in hindsight we wish. We would have done it standing and ran through the dryer rather that after the snow almost in the ground....
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I am embarrassed to admit how few acres have caused this much grief, about 1600 this year, that would be a couple of days combining for some of you. Mostly all owned land. And I forgot to add, that was a very partial list of breakdowns.

Coolio, I am straight west of Red Deer about as far west as you can grain farm (barely), Clearwater river is just west of here. We get less heat units than basically anywhere that grain farms on the prairies, along with the most moisture outside of a few areas in Manitoba(officially at least), this year we got about the least of anywhere, 3.5 inches until September. We seed the minute the fields are fit to drive on in the spring, this year there was still snow at the end of April. Seeding probably could have gone slightly faster if not for dealing with the end of calving cows, but was in in record time.

As for lodging, my yield goals are probably over ambitious, but with the small acres, and high land costs I need that to be profitable. Lots of manure, generous fertilizer. Lots of Potash on everything, since our grey wooded is very low on Potash. Barley under 100 bushels just doesn't pencil compared to CPS or canola, and 100 seems to be the limit for standing. But maybe I am doing something wrong. The past 2 years, the lodging was almost entirely about the snow, since we had no rain all summer. Conversely the short CPS I grow will stand way beyond that. Last year before the snow we did about 55 acres of CPS at 125 Bu/Acre standing perfectly, then it snowed. Meanwhile the experiment of organic barley with no fertilizer was already lodging. I just couldn't believe the capacity of these combines when you can cut just under the heads, not process 100% of the straw, and never plug the header scalping the dirt.

So many reasons I am against barley. Mostly, it is just a wimp and gives up so easily. Too much rain in June and it turns yellow and never comes back. No rain at the wrong time and it gives up. We get lots of small hail storms (a result of cloud seeding just west of here, I believe). 1/4" hailstones which don't even touch the wheat, wreck a few top pods on canola, and shatter every head out of barley, this is almost an every year event. Lodging, get delayed due to bad weather and straw breaking down and heads hanging too low if it is still standing by fall. That said, this year I should have seeded all barley, no substantial hail, a couple storms in September but under 20% damage, no rain to flood anything, and could have been combining in August instead of November, but my crystal ball wasn't working this spring.

Definitely cutting back the canola acres again next year. For the second year in a row CPS was more profitable, much more so this year with less risk.

As for combines, we have stuck with conventionals due to lots of tough straw, and baling some straw. That said, I only need a couple hundred bales for my own use, so if we have to bale twice as many acres to get the same amount from a rotary, not a big deal. This year it was all baled for neighbors, but that is an exception, normally I want to put all the straw back into the land.
These combines are definitely overly complicated, and that does mean more breakdowns. And more issues in really extreme conditions. One good example, is the tines mounted on cranks above the straw walkers. They help huge in cereals, never have any walker losses, but the minute they hit tough canola, they wrap, and stall, and plug the walkers, big job to unplug. I've had to remove them on three different years just to be able to combine, that is not a small job. Thinking seriously about an MF rotary, simple, reversible rotor, only nearest dealer is MF, although they quit selling MF combines after the 8680's so don't stock much for the newer rotaries. Run one combine only, second operator in a swather instead.
Ran next to a 9600 in standing 10% canola this fall on warm days, he had 20', I had 25'. We were going the same speed, I ran out of power to go any faster chopping green straw. So I don't see where a JD conventional is going to be any improvement in capacity, but perhaps somewhat simpler.

A grain drier might make drying a simpler affair, but I don't let wet grain hold me up. I dry in bins, at any moisture. Started wheat at too tough to even get a reading back in September. Barley at 28% and up. Canola at 20+%. If it will go through the combine we go.

And Trigger, to add insult to injury, this was a drought reduced crop. Wasn't expecting it to end this way. Had planned to try manipulator the past two years, but with the extreme dry conditions it looked like a waste of time. Was wrong twice in a row.

I would like to think that 2018 was just an outlier, but I said the same thing about 2015, 2016 and 2017, and each subsequent harvest weather was worse than the last. As the cooling trend continues, I don't see much chance that things improve. Probably just got spoiled by a few long dry falls. Had a few years where canola hailed out at end of July/early August still came back to get combined in decent time. That apparently was the exception, not the rule.
 

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One Lexion 590R and a FD75 could be had for a reasonable amount and destroy the pair of those. The auger headers are killing you.

And I now realize our harvest was a day off compared to what you endured.
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
Swath your canola... straight cutting it is a fad! The full bin alarm on your auger would probably help save time and a grain cart, it will allow you to drop straw and eliminate the need for the semi in the field while making moving grain from combined much more efficient. Downside is you need an extra operator (but can be very unskilled..... that was my job this year......)
We tried some wheat early in the season b4 the snow tested 20... in hindsight we wish. We would have done it standing and ran through the dryer rather that after the snow almost in the ground....
Straight cutting canola in theory allows us to combine long before swaths dry out. On a year like 2016 when it rained and snowed for almost 2 months in the middle of harvest, we were able to combine the straight cut canola in November long before the swaths were fit, and got every canola acre done, whereas there were lots of swaths that sat out all winter. It also rained almost every day in November while we were combining, we would be shut down for a few hours, swaths were shut down almost for the season.

A full bin alarm would be a good idea, or a truck driver who isn't afraid of heights. Main truck driver is mostly an accident waiting to happen, which didn't help. Spent more time picking grain up off the ground than putting it in the bin.

I am so gun shy about snow that I started combining standing wheat in September when it was too tough for the tester to even read, just to get something off before it got snowed on. The slow harvest wasn't for lack of trying, or waiting for ideal conditions. Combined standing wheat and canola with snow still on the ground.
 

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Even though my only main crops are corn and soybeans, I like to try and put in some early and late season corn to spread out when everything gets ready, beans though aren't too bad when they get ripe within a span of a week, that way I don't have to switch between corn and beans much.


Like you got to experience this year the weather is a huge factor that cannot be controlled, only (attempted) at planning around. It wasn't looking good for getting soybeans out late September/early October but finally got good for a little over a week and they all disappeared. Hope the trend isn't towards cooler and wetter here as well but since the 1980's it has been looking that way. I used to wonder how my dad got done with the same acres and much smaller equipment years back, of course the yields weren't as high then either.
 

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I think you need to ditch the drill so when you’re combining you aren’t gathering dirt, and then get one combine with a top notch flex draper header. Which likely means a John Deere 1895 drill to keep the surface firm and level and a green combine to fit a smaller reasonable header deal in the used FD market.

Yield targets will likely need to be reduced by planning or eventually from financial pressure also. JMO good luck nex year. It’s a matter of investing more and spending less.
.
 

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Just roll all your land. Is there any earlier maturing wheat you can grow? Like Kev said swath. It’s a 4 letter word but it saves our bacon. Also invest in a poor mans grain drier. (That’s what I call ours). Can you make money growing oats?
 
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