Advice to consider when lodged corn is problem at harvest

Ron Meyer, Colorado State University Extension agent for Kit Carson County, believes tips on harvesting lodged corn offered by Mark Hanna, Iowa State University agricultural engineer, are applicable for growers farther west.

With larger-than-average areas faced with lodged or downed cornstalks in some Colorado fields this year, “it’s a good time to review steps to take when faced with harvesting significant areas of lodged corn,” says Meyer.

Key Points

Harvesting lodged corn is slower and means the right mental attitude.

Lodged corn left in the field can be costly to growers.

Lodged fields should be harvested as soon as they are ready.


The only way to evaluate whether any harvesting aid or technique is helping is to measure harvest losses. Each ¾-pound ear on the ground per 436 square feet equals a loss of 1 bushel per acre, he notes.

Hanna offers these tips for machine operation to cut losses:

Set gathering chains for more aggressive operation with points opposite each other and relatively close together. Adjust deck plates over snapping rolls only slightly wider than cornstalks so that they can hold stalks, but not so narrow that stalks will wedge between plates.

Operate the head as low as practical without picking up rocks or significant amounts of soil.

Single-direction harvesting against the grain of leaning stalks may help. Evaluate your losses before spending large amounts of time dead-heading the field.

Limited field research suggests a corn reel may not help limit machine losses. A reel likely allows greater travel speed and improves productivity, however. Losses may be similar comparing harvesting at 1 mile per hour without a reel and 3 mph with a reel, but harvest progresses much faster. Spiral cones mounted atop row dividers or the addition of higher dividers on each end of the corn head are potential after-market harvest aids.

If harvest speeds are significantly reduced, the amount of materials going through the combine is reduced. Fan speed may need to be reduced to avoid blowing kernels out of the combine. Rotor speed may need to be reduced to maintain grain quality. Check kernel losses behind the combine and grain quality to fine-tune cleaning and threshing adjustments.

As important as anything, be in the correct frame of mind and keep the right mental attitude, says Hanna. Realize harvest speeds will be slower. Communicate these expectations with others. Take the time necessary and don’t allow an accident to compound harvest problems.

“Stalk rolls pull in crop at about 12 feet per second, much faster than reaction time to release the grip on the stalk,” he adds. “Do not attempt to unplug stalks from the corn head before disengaging power to the head and stopping the combine engine.

“Remove the operator’s key if there is any chance that another person will be in the cab. Take time to have a safe and efficient harvest. Rushing through activities, particularly early in the season before any weather-related pressures have developed, can be counterproductive.”

Among your preharvest concerns is whether your machinery and workers are up to the job of combining lodged corn, notes Hanna.

Generally, he says, lodged fields should be harvested when they are first ready to avoid increased lodging by further stalk disease development or windstorm.

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Help from East: Tips from Iowa could help deal with lodged corn in Colorado.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.