Chopping headers take out the trash
Love isn’t the kind of word farmers toss around too freely, but ask Allyn Buhrow and Jesse Schleich what they think of their chopping corn heads, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Buhrow on his Geringhoff head: “I love it. We’ve run it for three seasons, and this will be our fourth.”
Schleich on his John Deere head: “We just got it last year, and we love it. We love it when we’re working ground, too.”
Chopping corn heads are designed to chop up tough stalks, allowing them to decompose faster and, with any luck, leave less residue behind come spring.
Schleich, who farms near Fairview with his brother and father, is about to run their John Deere head for a second season. They didn’t change their tillage operations, but Schleich notes the chopping head made those tillage passes a dream.
“We don’t have near the residue in the spring with corn on corn,” he says. “In the spring, it’s almost like you plowed it. It’s just gone. We rip in the fall, and it’s gone in the spring.”
He admits they’ve had a bit of trouble with windrowing in no-till conditions, and he thinks the stubble may be a little harder on tires. John Deere chopping headers have a lawn-mower blade-type design, which mows the stalk off, leaving behind a harder stubble.
“We might address that with Stalk Stompers,” Schleich says (see “Save your tires” below).
Coming to America
Chopping headers have been popular in Europe for some time, and were introduced in the U.S. about a decade ago. Since then, as corn breeders have improved standability and as plant populations have increased (recommended stand counts are up nearly 30% in 20 years), U.S. farmers have been looking for residue management solutions. For many, chopping heads are a big part of their solution. Now, major equipment manufacturers sell chopping heads, as do Geringhoff, Drago, Fantini, Harvestec and Worthington Ag Parts, which sells Capello chopping heads.
According to Buhrow, nearly all the chopping heads in his area are either Geringhoff or Drago. One reason he likes their Geringhoff head is because it requires less horsepower and is lighter than other chopping heads.
“We’re running the smallest combine that Case makes that’s still an eight-row — a 5088 — and we roll right along,” he says, adding they normally pick at 4.5 mph. John Hoes, a product specialist with Geringhoff, confirms that their head takes about 1.5 horses more per row than a knife roll machine, while standard chopping lawn mower-style heads require 4 to 5 more horses per row over a knife roll machine.
“We’ve got a little bit of wear after the third year,” Buhrow says. “We’ve replaced the hook knives up front, but that’s it. We may replace the front three star cutting disks before this season starts.”
He adds that they changed tire spacing and still saw some wear. He also wonders if they’ll have trouble in dry conditions with fluff buildup on the head.
But the way the chopping head handles residue makes up for all that. “Last year, we picked in the rain, and we chisel-plowed right behind the combine. It was trashy conditions. There’s no way we could have done that with the other head,” Buhrow says.
And after having a neighbor combine a field or two for them last year, he was reminded of the difference in the two types of heads. “It’s just night and day,” he says. “There’s no going back.”
This article published in the June, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.