Tips to help reduce soybean harvest losses
Barton County Extension Agent
Soybeans are the most valued grain or oil seed we have in price per bushel. Although prices are way down from last year, every bushel of soybeans lost in the field cost you $8 or more. Take that times all your acres and that can be a serious amount of money. On a state basis, we are looking at over $600 million dollars total.
By doing a good job at harvest, farmers can add several thousand dollars to their income. Unfortunately, thousands of bushels of Kansas-grown soybeans never reach the bin because of harvest losses.
Studies have shown that average harvest losses are about ten percent. Although some losses are inevitable because soybeans are difficult to harvest, farmers could cut them in half by paying close attention to combining operations. Anything over 1.5 bushels lost is unacceptable.
Getting the beans into the machine is a big problem, because of the height of the soybean plant and where the beans are located on the plant. Since soybeans pods are near the ground, farmers must cut lower than they do with other crops. Soybeans also can shatter even under the best of harvest conditions and when they get too dry this can be really bad.
Here are ways farmers can cut their losses:
• Cutterbar height – A farmer can lose about $6 per acre for every inch the cutter bar is operated above ground level, up to about 6 inches. So, keep that cutter bar as low as possible.
Pickup reels are almost a necessity when combining soybeans. Also, I suggest that a “flex head” (flexible-floating cutter bar) is superior to the regular floating cutter bar in harvesting soybeans. A producer who has the rigid platform used for cutting wheat or other small grains might be dollars ahead by hiring a custom harvester with a flex head. The flex head can be used on drilled or 30″ row beans. If your beans are all in 30″ rows, a soybean head or row-crop head can be used to your advantage.
• Ground speed – The faster the combine travels, the higher the losses will be. These days, machines are good enough to allow 5 miles per hour and still do a good job.
• Reel speed – The reel speed should be 1.25 times the ground speed or 25 percent higher. This is a place where gathering can be a problem and soybeans lost.
• Timely harvest – Soybeans are a crop where you had better be out there harvesting when the moisture is dry enough. They can shatter easily when over-dry. So, be out there at 13.5 percent moisture, if not sooner.
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